Broadband Communities

MAR-APR 2018

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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M A R C H / A P R I L 2 0 1 8 | 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 | 6 3 broadband. at would have been a 10-fold increase over FY 2017 broadband funding at RUS. is meshed with congressional concern for more (and more flexible) rural broadband funding, perhaps most notably by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who, with Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., introduced a $50 million Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program (B-CROP) Act last year along to help bring high-speed broadband to rural areas. Gillibrand upped the amount to $600 million when she saw the opportunity. e proposal fell, as they say, on fertile ground, and language from the bill was quickly folded into the budget act. Before the Senate voted, insiders guessed that RUS would make do with $50 million under existing rules. President Trump had touted his $250 billion infrastructure proposal, with a $50 billion set-aside for rural counties, as the cure-all for rural ills. at proposal is still on the table, of course. It would provide aid as a block grant to states, with each state expected to get its share according to the existing block grant formula, which does not specifically recognize a state's rural needs and populations. ere's no denying the impact of that kind of money. But broadband would have to compete against highways, sewer grants and other worthy rural projects and against effective in-state lobbying by at least some incumbent carriers. All that said, if even $1 billion of that money went to broadband, it would likely add 100 new systems to the RUS funds just appropriated. at would bring broadband to more than 20 percent of all rural counties that now lack it – a huge accomplishment. e House of Representatives passed the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill 256-167, without the massive opposition by mainly rural Tea Party Republicans that had been expected. Some 145 Republicans and 111 Democrats voted "yes." e "no" votes came from 90 Republicans and 77 Democrats. We'll be watching all this with great care. So far, the folks at USDA seem to be enthusiastically backing the new funding. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said he "applauded" it and expected it to leverage more than $1 billion in new broadband networks. Some staffers warn that it was not exactly what the president wanted, but there have been no rumblings from the White House – which, after all, quietly continued the multiagency reform of regulations affecting broadband (especially rural broadband) that President Obama started in 2015. My studies show that at least a quarter of all rural population loss, and maybe as much as half, is due to lack of broadband access. e line for loans and grants should soon be open. v Editor-at-large Steve Ross can be reached at steve@bbcmag.com.

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