Broadband Communities

JAN-FEB 2019

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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J A N U A R Y / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 9 | w w w. b r o a d b a n d c o m m u n i t i e s . c o m | B R O A D B A N D C O M M U N I T I E S | 3 5 today rural communities kick off their rural broadband project planning," said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who spoke at a briefing at the department's headquarters near the National Mall. "We don't want an urban-rural divide in the county," he said. "When are we going to stop having to drive rural kids to places where they can do homework by skimming off Wi-Fi from fast food restaurants?" e program is being administered by USDA Rural Development, the umbrella agency at the Agriculture Department that includes the Rural Utilities Service. Jannine Miller, senior adviser for rural infrastructure to Perdue, introduced the secretary, saying that "connecting America is truly transformative." FUNDING RULES FOR RECONNECT Municipalities, rural electric co-ops and utilities, and private internet companies may all apply for funding through ReConnect. e USDA will make available approximately $200 million for grants, $200 million for loan and grant combinations and $200 million for low-interest loans. e grant applications are due by April 29, 2019, the loan-grant combination applications are due May 29, and loan applications can be submitted between March 1 and June 28. (At press time, the USDA was shut down, so these dates may have to be adjusted.) Chad Parker, the Rural Utilities Service assistant administrator for telecommunications policy, said that projects funded through this initiative must serve communities with fewer than 20,000 people who have no broadband service or whose service is slower than 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. "Approved projects must create access speeds of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload," Parker added. 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," the USDA said in a news release. Evaluation criteria include connecting agricultural production and marketing, e-commerce, health care and education facilities. e grant program and grant/loan combination program will award funding to the applicants with the highest scores according to the evaluation criteria, but the pure loans will be awarded on a rolling basis to any qualified applicant. Previous research by the USDA – and many others – has connected high-capacity broadband to all aspects of rural prosperity, including the ability to grow and attract businesses, retain and develop talent and maintain rural quality of life. RECONNECT IMPLEMENTATION e USDA is holding a series of webinars and regional in-person workshops; a list of upcoming public webinars and workshops is available at ReConnect's resource portal at reconnect.usda.gov. e historical genesis of the program includes the Trump administration's establishment of an Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. e task force findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in the rural United States, and increasing investments in rural infrastructure was a key recommendation of the task force. At the time of the March 2018 omnibus appropriation bill's passage, Perdue said that "increased support for broadband internet access is in line with administration goals and will be an important boost as we look to improve the economy in rural America." RECEPTION TO RECONNECT A variety of other government and nongovernment entities weighed in with support for the ReConnect program. Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in a statement, "I'm pleased the USDA is finally moving forward on the $600 million high- speed internet investment Congress provided in the 2018 omnibus. Expanding high-speed Internet access is vital to the growth and success of our small towns and rural communities in Michigan and across the country." When the bill was passed in March, Stabenow noted that the $600 million for rural broadband "represents the largest investment in broadband expansion since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009." Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, said, "Secretary Perdue's announcement lays the groundwork for an improved approach to making broadband a reality across rural America. is pilot program and the strong broadband provisions included in the 2018 farm bill highlight a much- needed shift in federal policy to make rural broadband a possibility for the estimated 23 million Americans who lack it. "More than 100 electric co-ops have launched broadband deployment projects to help modernize rural economies," Matheson added. "We are very pleased that the pilot program adopts a 25/3 sufficiency standard and will prioritize applications that would deliver speeds in excess of the 25/3 minimum standard." Matheson said "all capable providers should have equal access to federal funding" and that grants should be prioritized in areas with the lowest population density "given that is a prime cost driver of the lack of broadband deployment." v Drew Clark is a telecommunications attorney and publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com, a media community centered on broadband technology and internet policy. He is also president of the Rural Telecommunications Congress. Contact Drew at drew@breakfast.media.

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