USDA and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission have issued a joint report called "Bringing Broadband to Rural America: Update to Report on a Rural Broadband Strategy" and it places new emphasis on the need to support rural broadband. Long a laggard on getting the latest in high-speed Web access, rural communities have a growing need for access to faster data transfer access.
The report, prepared by the FCC in consultation with USDA's Rural Utilities Service (RUS), noted that broadband deployment and adoption remains a top priority for the Obama Administration through ongoing loan and grant programs administered by RUS and regulatory reform measures and tools set forth by the FCC. However, more needs to be done to fulfill the Administration's objective for widespread deployment of affordable, quality broadband services to every community.
Jonathan Adelstein, RUS administrator, says the FCC's report "confirms the need to continue the administration's comprehensive investments and policy framework to ensure that rural communities and tribal nations enjoy the same access to the economic, educational, health care and public safety opportunities and services that broadband delivers in urbanized communities."
Adelstein adds that having access to financing through a broad range of USDA programs is "essential for economic growth, including jobs, in the parts of the country still waiting for the benefits broadband brings.
"While we have made significant progress, the report shows that approximately 28% of rural residents still lack access to the kind of broadband that most Americans take for granted," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. "That is not acceptable, and it's why the FCC has launched major initiatives to overhaul our universal service system, free more spectrum, and reduce barriers to broadband deployment."
RUS, part of the Rural Development mission area, has funded broadband through its Farm Bill loan program since 2002, and broadband capability through its traditional telecommunications infrastructure program since 1995. Since publication of the FCC's 2009 broadband report, RUS has invested over $5 billion in funding for broadband, including approximately $1.5 billion in loans for telecommunications infrastructure that is broadband capable, $13.4 million in grants for broadband in remote rural areas, $71 million in distance learning and telemedicine grants, and $3.5 billion in broadband funding awarded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.