USDA Launches New Program to Create High-Speed Internet e-Connectivity in Rural America

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2018 – Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today announced that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is offering up to $600 million in loans and grants to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America. Telecommunications companies, rural electric cooperatives and utilities, internet service providers and municipalities may apply for funding through USDA’s new ReConnect Program to connect rural areas that currently have insufficient broadband service. Answering the Administration’s call to action for rural prosperity, Congress appropriated funds in the fiscal year 2018 budget for this broadband pilot program. USDA Rural Development is the primary agency delivering the program, with assistance from other federal partners.

“High-speed internet e-Connectivity is a necessity, not an amenity, vital for quality of life and economic opportunity, so we hope that today rural communities kick off their rural broadband project planning,” Secretary Perdue said. “Under the leadership of President Trump, USDA has worked to understand the true needs of rural communities facing this challenge so we can be strong partners to create high-speed, reliable broadband e-Connectivity.”

USDA will make available approximately $200 million for grants (applications due to USDA by April 29), as well as $200 million for loan and grant combinations (applications due May 29), and $200 million for low-interest loans (applications due by June 28).

Projects funded through this initiative must serve communities with fewer than 20,000 people with no broadband service or where service is slower than 10 megabits per second (mbps) download and 1 mbps upload.

Approved projects must create access speeds of at least 25 mbps upload and 3 mbps download. Priority will be awarded for projects that propose to deliver higher-capacity connections to rural homes, businesses and farms. USDA seeks to stretch these funds as far as possible by leveraging existing networks and systems without overbuilding existing services greater than 10/1 mbps.

Evaluation criteria include connecting agricultural production and marketing, e-Commerce, health care and education facilities. Previous research by USDA has demonstrated that high-capacity broadband is critical to all aspects of rural prosperity, including the ability to grow and attract businesses, retain and develop talent, and maintain rural quality of life.

To help customers with the application process, USDA is holding a series of online webinars and regional in-person workshops. The full list of upcoming public webinars and workshops can be found at the ReConnect Program’s resource portal at reconnect.usda.gov.

In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force.

To view the report in its entirety, please view the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB). In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, please view the Rural Prosperity infographic (PDF, 190 KB).

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit http://www.rd.usda.gov.

Source 

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High-Speed Internet Project for Nevada County Gets Green Light (Docs)

The California Public Utilities Commission has signaled approval of the sale of Bright Fiber Inc. to Race Communications with some changes, a move that after months of inaction advances a high-speed internet project in Nevada County.

The CPUC on Monday released a resolution detailing the changes, which include having 75 percent of the project on existing utility poles instead of “primarily underground.” Additionally, the utilities commission grant — which comprises 60 percent of the total project cost — will be reduced by almost $70,000, for a total of $16,086,789.

The utility commission must approve the sale — a vote scheduled for Jan. 10.

Read the Rest of the Story in The Union

 

FCC Map Probe Draws Hill Praise

— Lawmakers are voicing support for the FCC’s decision to investigate whether major carriers overstated their wireless coverage. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee, said Monday she is “pleased” the agency is taking “additional steps necessary to address their flawed maps.” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), another Commerce member, said it’s “absolutely critical that the Commission remains focused on ensuring that our limited universal service funds are effectively and accurately targeted to areas that lack unsubsidized 4G LTE service.”

— The background: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced on Friday that a preliminary review “suggested significant violations” of the agency’s rules regarding the maps, as Margaret reported for Pro . “We must ensure that the data is accurate before we can proceed,” Pai said. Mobility Fund Phase II will provide up to $4.53 billion in support for rural wireless broadband expansion across the country over the next 10 years.

Actions speak louder than words, to repeat an often used phrase.  Fixing the mapping problem is not going to be easy. The biggest gaps in the maps are in rural areas, outside the urban that now have broadband.  How to survey these gaps is a real challenge.

Microsoft: The Rural Broadband Divide: An Urgent National Problem That We Can Solve

In a blog post, Brad Smith gives an early introduction to his presentation at 9:30 PST today at a luncheon in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

Every day the world is becoming more digital. Cloud computing combined with new productivity, communication and intelligent tools and services enable us to do more, do it more quickly and in ways that were simply unimaginable a generation ago. But participating in this new era requires a high-speed broadband connection to the internet. While it’s a service that is as critical as a phone or electricity, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) broadband is unavailable to roughly 25 million Americans, more than 19 million of which live in rural communities. That’s roughly the population of New York state.

Over the past five years, the FCC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided more than $22 billion in subsidies and grants to telecommunications carriers to sustain, extend and improve broadband in rural America. Despite these efforts, the country’s adoption of broadband hasn’t budged much since 2013. This inability to build out the last mile of the 21st century’s digital infrastructure has exacerbated the country’s growing prosperity and opportunity divides — divisions that often fall along urban and rural lines.

The full presentation is HERE.

Airband is a more rural-friendly technology than 5G, rural communities need to embrace this interim technology until they can afford fiber to the home or office.

Microsoft Airband Update on 4 Dec @ 9:30 AM

A message from Microsoft: Broadband is essential to the way we work, live, learn, and play today. More than 19 million people in the rural U.S. don’t have a broadband connection. Lack of broadband prevents students from completing homework and research, limits agriculture and small-business opportunities, and results in less access to healthcare.

Technology offers an affordable solution. Microsoft has been working to close the broadband gap. Join Microsoft President Brad Smith, Packerland Broadband, Declaration Networks and nonprofit partners for an update on the Microsoft Airband Initiative Tuesday, Dec. 4, at noon EST/9:30 a.m. PST. Learn more here.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

 

CA Economic Summit: Resilient rural communities built on upgraded infrastructure, faster broadband for all

The ability to purchase a home is vital to the foundation of a thriving community. As Chair of the Golden State Finance Authority (GSFA), I have seen firsthand the benefits that homeownership affords California’s local communities. GSFA has supported affordable homeownership in California for over two decades, providing homeownership programs featuring competitive interest rates and down payment assistance.

Over the past 25 years, GSFA has helped more than 74,800 individuals and families purchase homes and provided over $537 million in down payment assistance, as well as provided financing for over 30,000 residential or commercial energy efficiency projects.

While GSFA is doing its part to expand access to affordable homeownership in the state, homeownership alone does not constitute a thriving community. Every community needs jobs for its residents and a solid infrastructure platform on which to build its local economy. In 2018, it is vital that such an infrastructure platform include not only high-functioning traditional infrastructure such as water, sewer, and transportation systems, but also a robust broadband network that is accessible to all.

Working through its affiliate organization, the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), GSFA has identified a number of industry-specific areas of focus for their economic development strategy in California’s rural counties, including broadband and infrastructure. RCRC’s economic development team is working with a network of economic development professionals in RCRC’s 36 member counties to support and catalyze programs and projects that result in job and investment generation.

Rural Broadband Deployment

High-speed broadband deployment in rural California is one of the most critical missing infrastructure components. Its absence often precludes unserved and underserved communities from participating in the 21st century economy. High-speed broadband provides essential benefits by allowing increased economic and trade opportunities for small to medium-sized businesses, access to medical care (telehealth/telemedicine) and educational opportunities, and enhanced public safety – improving overall quality of life. Speed of commerce service is a critical step in the development of strong rural communities.

Infrastructure

Many communities in rural California are in desperate need of infrastructure upgrades to better serve their residents and businesses, but don’t have the resources, financial or otherwise, to research, apply, and implement these upgrades. These projects include improvements to water, transportation, and community facilities infrastructure. Innovative funding options and other programs that allow for project pooling and access to multiple funding sources that may reduce existing barriers to entry for rural communities must be identified.

The source is HERE. [Emphasis added]

Microsoft Airband Partner Added in Northwest, Aims to Reach 73K with Fixed Wireless

[…]

Microsoft Airband Partner

Through the partnership, Native Network will provide affordable, hybrid, fixed-wireless broadband internet access, including TV White Spaces, to tribes within Flathead Reservation in Montana as well as Lummi Nation and Swinomish Tribe in Washington.

The announcement is one of several Microsoft has announced recently to expand broadband in rural areas:

Microsoft plans to bring services to about 126,700 previously unserved people in rural communities in Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota, through a partnership with Network Business Systems.

The company partnered with Agile Networks and Airband to offer high-speed broadband to 110,000 people in rural Ohio.

Microsoft provided start-up funding to U.S. companies Numbers4Health; Skylark Wireless; Cy Wireless and Tribal Digital Village and four other companies.

“Broadband is the electricity of the 21st century and is critical for farmers, small-business owners, health-care practitioners, educators and students to thrive in today’s digital economy,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith, in a prepared statement.“The partnership with Native Network will help close the digital divide in rural Montana and Washington, bringing access to approximately 73,500 people within and around the tribal communities.”

Read more HERE.