The Senate early Friday morning passed and sent to the president, a $1.3 trillion omnibus appropriations bill, H.R. 1625, to keep the government funded through September 30. The measure contains $600 million in federal funding for rural broadband deployment. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law Friday afternoon, averting another government shutdown.
The money is to be distributed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS). “Small telcos have a proven track record in overcoming challenges in rural areas to provide robust, sustainable broadband, and their many efforts in conjunction with long-standing, highly-effective U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) backing are the embodiment of precisely the kinds of public-private partnerships that our nation should be leveraging to tackle such challenges in the future,” said NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield. The new effort will be coordinated with existing broadband-focused initiatives within RUS and at the FCC.
The funding authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to create a pilot program within RUS that distributes the new money in the form of grants and loans. Conditions imposed by the omnibus include:
- Ninety percent of the households served by any project funded through this program must be unserved or underserved and can’t currently have 10/1 Mbps broadband access
- Any entity receiving funds from the program is prohibited from overbuilding an existing RUS borrower
- No more than four percent of funds received through the program can be used towards administrative costs
March 26, 2018