Rural Broadband is always a hot topic. Unfortunately, our fervor for internet connectivity has led to wasteful spending that does not do anything for those who are actually unconnected.
There are a number of programs throughout federal and state government to increase rural connectivity, but without proper targeting and coordination those programs are wasteful. There is an opportunity to fix the targeting of some of the Rural Universal Service fund administered by the Department of Agriculture in the Farm Bill.
Currently, and area is considered unserved if 15% of the population does not have access to a broadband provider. As a result, service providers would receive RUS funds for a particular block, but rather than build out to the 15% with no access, they would concentrate their builds on the other 85% that already have service. This is one of the reasons that even though we keep throwing money at rural broadband there are still people without access.
It is important to reform the standards for grants and loans, so if there is to be money strewn about, it goes to the people it was intended to help.
The Senate language on RUS in the Farm Bill requires companies receiving loans or grants to deploy in areas that are 90% UNSERVED and have no provider exceeding speeds of 25/3 mbps. The House language does not correct the issue of misdirected funds.
During conference, it should be no problem for House members to accept the Senate language. This is a problem that the USDA Inspector general has been citing since at least 2005, and in subsequent reports revealed that the problem is not fixing itself.
The Senate language puts taxpayer dollars to use effectively by targeting those that are truly unconnected. Once we have targeted funds to those who really need it, we will likely see an uptick in connectivity and a decrease in the need for additional taxes and fees.