The department announced details Thursday of its rural broadband pilot, making good on a 2017 administration promise to invest in the rural economy.
Numbers: $600 million in grants and loans, to help build out broadband capacity in underserved, sparsely populated communities. The funding comes from the omnibus spending bill, H.R. 1625 (115), passed in March. Nonprofits, for-profits and local governments are among those that can apply. USDA won’t fully fund projects; instead, it will provide a 25 percent matching grant, a 2 percent low-interest loan, or a combo of the two.
Timing: A proposed rule is expected to be released in May. There will be three application periods between April and June of next year. USDA will work to roll out grants and loans next summer through the latter half of 2019, according to Chad Parker, assistant administrator for telecommunication programs at the Rural Utilities Service.
Speed: Projects that get funding under the so-called ReConnect Program must create access speeds of at least 25 megabits per second upload and 3 mbps download. USDA’s initial guidelines of 10 mbps downstream and 1 mbps upstream were criticized for not being fast enough.
Source of information: POLITICO’s Sarah Zimmerman via Politico email news.