New Rules Proposed for Rural Broadband

Bridging the 'digital divide' is key goal for USDA as the agency works to bring faster access to information to the country.

Published on: May 11, 2007

Rural residents in many pockets of the country still don't have access to a high-speed Internet connect and it's a competitive issue for rural communities. A new set of rules proposed by USDA Rural Development today aims to change that. Agriculture Under Secretary for Rural Development Tom Dorr announced the new rules adding that "these proposed changes will improve broadband coverage in rural America."

The aim of the rules is to get funding and support to areas that need it most. Dorr outlined several elements of the proposed rules:

  • Promoting deployment to rural areas with little or no service.
  • Ensuring that residents in funded areas get broadband access more quickly.
  • Limiting funding in urban areas and areas where a significant share of the market is served by incumbent providers;
  • Clarifying and streamlining equity and marketing survey requirements;
  • Increasing the transparency of the application process, including legal notice requirements, to make more informed lending/borrowing decisions;
  • Promoting a better understanding of all application requirements, including market survey, competitive analysis, business plan, and system design requirements; and
  • ensuring that projects funding are keeping pace with increasing demand for bandwidth.

Dorr adds that significant progress has been made to facilitate rural broadband deployment with more than 70 loans made totaling $1.2 billion. The loans have covered projects headquartered in more than 36 states, covering more than a half million households in more than 1,000 rural communities. More than 60% of those communities had little or now broadband service at the time.

In addition, as part of its 2007 Farm Bill proposal, the USDA has requested re-authorization of the broadband program through 2012. Because of broadband technology, to an unprecedented degree, people have choices about where to live and how to work. From a rural development perspective, this allows rural residents to live locally and compete globally.