— House lawmakers unanimously approved several amendments dealing with broadband funding and artificial intelligence as part of the second minibus appropriations bill on Wednesday and Thursday. That includes an amendment from Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) requiring the National Science Foundation to assess the social impact of artificial intelligence research it supports.
— On the broadband front: The House signed off on language forbidding the Commerce Department’s NTIA from relying only on the FCC’s carrier-submitted data in any update to its broadband mapping as well as an amendment dictating an additional $1 million be spent on its mapping efforts. In roll-call votes Thursday, lawmakers approved by wide margins amendments that would boost funding for the USDA Re-Connect broadband loan and grant program by $55 million and funding for the Community Connect broadband grant program by $5 million.
Source: POLITICO Morning Tech
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will start accepting applications for its Rural e-Connectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect Program) on April 23.
The ReConnect Program enables USDA to create and implement innovative solutions to rural connectivity by providing various financial options to partners and customers
We earlier reported the rules for how the government would award $600 million in broadband loans and grants for the Rural Broadband Pilot program created by Congress. The USDA ReConnect Rural Broadband Pilot rules apply to a wide range of potential participants, including state and local governments and non-profit organizations, as well as for-profit corporations, limited liability companies, cooperatives and tribes.
The USDA will make three different types of awards:
- $200 million in grants, with a requirement for 25% in matching funds, with an application deadline of May 31
- $200 million in 50% grant/50% loan combinations, with an application deadline of June 21
- $200 million in low-interest loans, with an application deadline of July 12
Note that all of the deadlines above are slightly later than the government originally announced.
Funds will be awarded to projects that have financially sustainable business models that will bring high-speed broadband to rural homes, businesses, farms, ranches and community facilities such as first responders, health care sites and schools. Telecommunications companies, internet service providers, rural electric cooperatives and utilities and municipalities may apply for funding through USDA’s ReConnect Program to connect rural areas that currently have insufficient broadband service.
Applications can be submitted through via reconnect.usda.gov.
H/T to Telecompetitor
White House announces the initiative on the White House Blog
Expanding America’s broadband connectivity is critical to our nation’s economy, and a top priority for President Trump and the Department of Commerce. Today, we join with our partners in government to announce the American Broadband Initiative (ABI), a comprehensive effort to stimulate increased private sector investment in broadband.
NTIA is proud to share leadership of the ABI, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the White House Offices of American Innovation, Management and Budget, Science and Technology Policy, and the National Economic Council. In a report released today, over 20 federal agencies set out strategies for streamlining federal permitting, leveraging federal assets, and maximizing the effectiveness of federal funding for broadband.
We congratulate the Department of Interior on the launch of the new Joint Overview Established Location Map, which pulls data related to federal lands and assets from multiple agencies into a single map. This map will help the broadband industry more easily identify the location of available assets. It is an important first step in one of the Initiative’s core priorities: making it easier for the private sector to leverage federal assets to promote investment.
More details and links at the Broadband USA Blog
When the ARRA Broadband RFP was released, multiple small ISPs were interested until they saw the additional workload the owner and staff would have to invest, just to submit the proposal and decided not to participate. When Trump was elected he indicated his administration would support rural broadband funding. My recommendation to the Gold Country Broadband Consortia was to help communities prepare for the RFPs which would be forthcoming, but the Program Manager had other priorities. Her position was “We are not interested in Trump’s money”. A short-sided view of the problem and I terminated my consulting agreement.
I now endorse the USDA action to let small ISPs prepare for the release of their ReConnect RFP. The important action is for the ISPs to take advantage of this extra preparation time.
USDA Official: States and Localities Need Skin in the Game for Rural Broadband to Succeed
When decision makers consider who should receive some of the $600 million allocated to the USDA ReConnect rural broadband pilot program, the agency will use a scoring system that awards points based on a range of factors, including the number of educational and healthcare facilities that would receive service – and for serving parts of states that have their own broadband funding programs. The latter criteria was included with the goal of “leveraging funding from outside sources” to “maximize the use of very limited resources,” said Anne Hazlett, Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development at the USDA, in an interview with Telecompetitor.
“We believe the federal government has a role, but we also need to see skin in the game from states and local communities because this is an issue that really touches the quality of life in rural America,” said Hazlett, whose responsibilities include overseeing the USDA Rural Utilities Service program and several other units within USDA.
Hazlett pointed to another example of how the USDA aims to maximize the impact of limited funding: Applicants will be able to request funding in the form of a loan, a grant or a combination of loan and grant.
Full Article is at Telecompetitor
That understanding drove the USDA to release documents on December 14 explaining how to apply for ReConnect rural broadband pilot funding even though the agency will not begin accepting applications for several months.
That move, she said, should help people get any technical assistance they might need to submit applications.