Although rural broadband expansion improves healthcare for rural areas, makes our local economies globally competitive, encourages rural entrepreneurism, and lowers rural unemployment, according to reports,
The USDA’s expansion of rural broadband appears to be on the chopping block, according to information contained in the newest budget deal out of Congress. Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee seek to cut the full $700 million in funding USDA had allocated to use this year on rural broadband expansion projects.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Republican Rep. Jerry Lewis
These budgeted monies were not not just give-aways either.
The money was to be made available by the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service for loans to rural broadband providers. Not grants. The default rate for RUS is extremely low. The money would be paid back. . . . The loan amounts were secured by $68 million appropriated by the 2008 Farm Bill, but this money was cut in earlier resolutions. “Said accurately, the denial of the $68 million in federal funds means that a figure over ten times that amount will not flow to credit worthy wired and wireless service providers for eventual repayment to the government,” the website reported. “The RUS broadband loan portfolio has a default rate of less than one percent.”
The importance of rural broadband has been compared to rural electrification many times in the years before these 2011,
Seventy years ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt realized that if private industry wouldn’t run power lines out to the farthest reaches of rural areas, it would take government money to help make it happen. In 1935, the Rural Electrification Administration was established to deliver electricity to the Tennessee Valley and beyond. . . Now, money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is doing the same with broadband, which is typically defined as DSL (digital subscriber line), cable modem, fiber optic or fixed wireless.
Republicans agreed with the importance of broadband to rural communites before:
I think, actually. . .the government has an important role to play in broadband access in rural communities. In fact, the senator [McCain] is promoting a program called People Connect, in which he would hope to provide tax benefits and financial benefits to companies who would provide those services to low-income users and rural users. I think the problem in rural parts of America are that the economics are not nearly as compelling as they are in metropolises like New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, and it may require some government assistance, either through financial subsidy policy or other kinds of creative tools like community or municipal broadband services that help bring those people into the cosmos of technology and connects them to the wonderful benefits that the Net provides.
And Republicans really sounded like they agreed with importance of broadband generally here:
“Many of the countries outpacing the United States in the deployment of high speed Internet services, including Canada, Japan and South Korea, have successfully combined municipal systems with privately deployed networks to wire their countries,” McCain said. “As a country, we cannot afford to cut off any successful strategy if we want to remain internationally competitive.” McCain acknowledged that the U.S. has a “long and successful” history of private investment in communications infrastructure. However, he said, when the industry does not “answer the call,” other options should be available.
And Republicans really, really sounded in agreement that the “market” fails rural communities, here:
In particular, through access to high-speed Internet services that facilitate interstate commerce, drive innovation, and promote educational achievements, there is the potential to change lives. These kinds of transformations of our way of life require the infrastructure of modern communication, and government has a role to play in assuring every community in America can develop that infrastructure. This country has a long history of ensuring that rural areas have the same access to communication technology as other places. . . In many places, cities and towns are working with businesses that have experience providing high-speed Internet services to share the cost of building and improving that service. Where companies are unwilling to build information infrastructure, the federal government can support towns through government-backed loans or by issuing bonds with a low interest rate.
Alabama Democrats will be known for what we fight for; let’s dig in here.