rural broadband (image by ShutterStock)

Who has 'sufficient access' to broadband?

In the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending package, Congress appropriated $600 million for the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service to start a new loan and grant pilot program to improve broadband service in eligible rural areas.  But the agency's first step is trying to figure out the best way to define what an eligible area looks like.

In a Federal Register notice, RUS is asking for comments on how best to define an area where at least 90 percent of the households don’t have sufficient access to broadband.

To determine rural broadband speeds, RUS uses data from its own Broadband Program Mapping Tool and the Federal Communications Commission’s National  Broadband Map,  but it wants information on  how  data speeds can verified and what other data  sources should be used  for evaluation. 

For the e-Connectivity pilot, sufficient access is defined as 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream, which is considerably slower than the FCC’s definition of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. According to the FCC’s 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, 80 percent of the 24 million households without affordable high-speed internet are in rural areas.

“There is always a fight among providers who say that the 10 Mbps/1 Mbps speed is better than dial up,” Karen Jackson, rural broadband advocate and former Virginia Secretary of Technology, told GCN.  “The speed is better than nothing but it is not a long-term sustainable solution.”

RUS is looking for information on transmission capacity, speed and latency required to encourage economic development and ensure rural populations have access to broadband coverage similar to that offered in urban areas.  The agency also is asking for comments describing how it can benchmark the affordability of different services, as well as ways to measure any broadband-related increase rural prosperity in the agricultural, manufacturing,  e-commerce, transportation, health care and education sectors. 

Comments are due Sept.  10. 

On July 26, RUS also posted a request for information asking for proposal support services, including managing application processing, administration and  award monitoring and reporting as well as overall program management  and administration. Reponses are due Aug. 9; read the full RFI  here.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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