Federal Shutdown Puts Rural Broadband Expansion Funding on Hold

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UPDATE A recent Microsoft study found that of 34 million Americans who lack broadband access, 22.4 million live in rural areas. 2019 is a seemingly a good time for municipalities looking to start their own broadband services since there’s more technical assistance available than ever before, reported StateScoop. However, the federal government’s partial shutdown has been a hindrance, said Chris Mitchell, the director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

Through its Rural Utilities Service program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides rural development grants to municipalities and local governments applying to expand or construct broadband infrastructure. The agency invested $228 million last year across 22 states, Inside Towers reported.  

But until the federal government reopens, the “provision of new rural development loans and grants” under the program will remain unfunded in 2019, according to Mitchell. Communities without broadband will remain cut off from assistance provided through the USDA. That affects an estimated $600 million for a pilot program planned to expand rural broadband to close the digital divide, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue recently announced, Inside Towers reported.

Mitchell added that the USDA’s shutdown status impacts municipalities seeking to expand their internet connectivity far more than a stagnant FCC, which is also closed.

“USDA funds a lot of rural broadband investment, so that’s a challenge there for places trying to get guidance on programs, figuring out if they’re eligible for grants or loans,” Mitchell said. “That’s a challenge for places that are trying to build a new network.”

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January 24, 2019

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