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 

Advertisements

RCRC: December Broadband Update

Senator Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), who is set to be Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee in the 116th Congress, is standing by his proposal to require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fix its broadband mapping data. Senator Wicker announced last week he would push language in an upcoming spending bill that would require the FCC to consider the concerns of senators from rural states who argue the FCC’s mapping data misrepresents broadband coverage in rural America.

It is uncertain whether Congress will allow Senator Wicker’s language to pass, but the FCC is likely to heed the concerns of the incoming Chairman of the Committee with direct oversight of the Commission.

Microsoft President Brad Smith announced this week that Microsoft will lead a new effort to bring broadband to rural California. Smith announced in a press release that Microsoft is expanding its “Airband Initiative” into new states, including California. Through the Airband Initiative, Microsoft partners with internet service providers leveraging a mix of innovative broadband solutions, including TV white spaces, to deliver high-speed internet coverage for rural areas. Microsoft founded the program in 2017 with the goal to bring broadband to 2 million rural Americans without internet access.

Source RCRC Barbed Wire Newsletter

Taking FCC Frustrations To Government Funding: FCC Mapping Flaws

— Bipartisan interest is growing on Capitol Hill in using a year-end funding bill to force the FCC to take stock of the accuracy of its broadband data. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is leading the effort, as John reported Thursday . “I’ll be very frank: I’m going to try to stick something on the spending bill to make the FCC take another look at this,” said Wicker, the likely incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee in the new year. He called the FCC’s mapping “fatally flawed.”

— And count Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in, too . Tester “would certainly be interested in addressing this issue during the appropriations process,” a spokeswoman said. Although Wicker has broad support in his frustrations, hitching an amendment could still be a heavy lift. Government funding expires Dec. 7, which gives Wicker and his allies little time to try to slip that in. Either way, Wicker tells John he plans to stay focused on his FCC frustrations as Commerce chair: “I would want to look at a way to get an accurate measurement so that we can distribute $4.5 billion in a way that’s meaningful.”

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

 

New Senate Broadband Legislation

— Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) joined Thursday to introduce a rural broadband bill, the ACCESS Rural America Act, aimed at helping small telecom companies escape certain Securities and Exchange Commission filing requirements. The legislation would raise the number of investors that prompts some of these obligations. “Unfortunately, rural telecom companies are getting hit with disclosure costs that were never intended for them,” said Baldwin.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

What 2018 Midterm Election Means for Rural Broadband

According to POLITICO Morning Tech:

A Democratic House and Republican Senate have a bipartisan shot at legislating on tech issues, but it’s a limited one. The two chambers “show signs that they could align around two issues: imposing privacy rules on the country’s tech giants and directing new funds to improve internet service in rural parts of the country,” John reports . “But with a tight window for legislating and the 2020 presidential election looming, the political climate doesn’t favor robust cooperation, making any breakthroughs challenging.”

Strong Rural Broadband Advocate:

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce tech subcommittee defeated Democrat Phil Bredesen in the election to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Bob Corker. Blackburn has been a strong advocate for rural broadband and it should help to have a strong voice in the Senate.

C|NET: FCC leaders say we need a ‘national mission’ to fix rural broadband

 

C|NET BB

 

 

This is part of CNET’s “Crossing the Broadband Divide” series exploring the challenges of getting internet access to everyone.

Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel may disagree on the net neutrality angle, but they do agree on finding inspiration in the 1930s.

As anyone who’s ventured beyond major cities or population centers in the US can tell you, high-speed internet access is a luxury that millions of people don’t experience. According to data from the Federal Communications Commission, roughly 39 percent of people living in rural regions of this country lack access to high-speed broadband, compared with just 4 percent of urban Americans.

What’s more, the internet that rural Americans can access is slower and more expensive than it is for their urban counterparts. To add insult to injury, rural residents generally earn less than those in urban areas.

So how are policy makers working to solve this problem? I [
Marguerite Reardon] traveled to Washington last month to talk about this topic with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the only Democrat on the commission. Specifically, I wanted to know what they see as the cause of this divide and how they think it can be bridged.

Full Report HERE.

I am highlighting this insight, as it is vitally important and a real challenge which I will cover in more detail in a future post.

But before you can really get things going, you have to address one key issue, Rosenworcel said.

“Our broadband maps are terrible,” she said. “If we’re going to solve this nation’s broadband problems, then the first thing we have to do is fix those maps. We need to know where broadband is and is not in every corner of this country.

It is impossible to effectively allocate resources if policymakers cannot identify the real problem. The logic used to create the current broadband maps is seriously flawed in two aspects, it is based on self-reporting by ISPs of advertised speeds and a single user in a census block the mappers assumes that all in the census block has similar service. Both of these flaws seriously distort reality.

Webinar: Federal Broadband Funding: Policies and Programs to Connect America

This BroadbandUSA webinar offered an overview of federal funding options to support increasing broadband access in communities across the United States. Learn about recent program and policy updates from officials representing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA).

Speakers:

Barrett L. Haga, Ph.D., Senior Administrator for Economic Engagement, Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce

Shawn Arner, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Loan Origination and Approval Division, RUS Telecommunications Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Kate Dumouchel, Special Counsel, Telecommunications Access Policy Division, Wireline Competition Bureau, Federal Communications Commission

Links to presentations and audio are HERE.