USDA Commits to Helping Build Broadband in Rural Areas

The USDA is establishing two funding cycles to review and prioritize applications for the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee program.

by Cathy Jett, The Free Lance-Star / August 4, 2015
The funding will help Frontier Communications Corp. install broadband to more than 650,000 rural locations throughout its 28-state service area. Flickr/Lisa Nolan
(TNS) — Some area residents have long been frustrated because they don’t have access to high-speed broadband.

But help could be on the way.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced changes to the program required by the 2014 Farm Bill that include loans to build broadband in rural areas.

“USDA is committed to providing broadband to rural areas,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release. “Broadband is as vital as electricity was 80 years ago.”

Since 2009, USDA investments have helped deliver broadband service to 1.5 million households, businesses, schools, libraries and community facilities.

“But our work is not done,” Vilsack said. “With program improvements and available funding made possible by the Farm Bill, we can continue our work to make broadband more accessible to those who live and work in rural areas.”

USDA is establishing two funding cycles to review and prioritize applications for the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee program. It also is setting a minimum level of acceptable broadband service at 4 megabits downstream and 1 megabit upstream.

The government agency is urging applicants to design systems that allow for 25 megabits downstream and 3 megabits upstream to meet future needs. It is accepting comments on these changes through Sept. 28.

To be eligible for funding, an applicant must serve an area where at least 15 percent of the households are unserved. Applications with the most unserved households will be processed first.

The maximum loan amount under Friday’s announcement is $20 million. Applications will be accepted through Sept. 30.

©2015 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.