WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced the availability of loans to build broadband in rural areas, along with changes to the program required by the 2014 Farm Bill.
“USDA is committed to providing broadband to rural areas,” Vilsack said. “Broadband is as vital as electricity was 80 years ago. Since 2009, USDA investments have delivered broadband service to 1.5-million households, businesses, schools, libraries and community facilities. But our work is not done. 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.”
In a rule published on page 45397 of the July 30 Federal Register, USDA is establishing two funding cycles to review and prioritize applications for the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee program. USDA also is setting a minimum level of acceptable broadband service at 4 megabits downstream and 1 megabit upstream. USDA urges applicants to design systems that allow for 25 megabits downstream and 3 megabits upstream to meet future needs. USDA is accepting comments on these changes through September 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 today’s announcement is $20 million. Applications will be accepted through September 30, 2015. For more information, see page 45504 of the July 30 Federal Register.
The 2014 Farm Bill builds on economic gains in rural America over the previous five years, while achieving reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding research; establishing public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve the quality of life in rural areas.