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Federal agencies announce efforts to spur investment in rural broadband

September 13, 2018

Investments in rural broadband deployment can create significant returns on investments for state economies. A recent study from Purdue University's Center for Regional Development contends that Indiana could generate a $12 billion economic impact over 20 years with strategic broadband investments in rural areas across the state. Purdue researchers estimate that for every dollar invested in broadband by the state, there would a ROI of nearly $4 to the economy. The Federal Communication Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have recently announced efforts or proposed rules to create incentives for private investments, deploy new technologies, and develop other resources for rural communities across the country with the intent of spurring economic growth.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it allocated nearly $1.5 billion in support to be distributed over the next 10 years to expand rural broadband service in unserved areas in 45 states. Through its Connect America Fund Phase II auction, over 700,000 rural homes and small business may gain access to high-speed internet for the first time with nearly 500,000 homes having download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second.

The intent of the auction was to help spur private investment in rural broadband deployment by making broadband expansion and ongoing service more economically feasible for regional internet service providers (ISPs). The funding also provides ISPs with the flexibility to use any broadband technology to meet the FCC’s buildout and performance standards for fixed service.

The FCC reports that it is working toward the launch of a $4.53 billion Mobility Fund Phase II auction to expand 4G LTE wireless coverage throughout rural America. The FCC also has proposed two new efforts to support the deployment of new broadband technologies in rural areas. Currently under consideration in the U.S. Senate, the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act is intended to streamline the deployment of 5G wireless infrastructure by shortening application review periods and limiting fees municipalities can charge providers. In another bill under consideration, the Gigabit Opportunity Act, tax incentives would be granted to companies that install wireless infrastructure in areas with a median income 75 percent or less than the national median.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (UDSA) Sonny Perdue also recently unveiled a new webpage (https://www.usda.gov/broadband) featuring information about the importance of rural e-Connectivity. The website provides information about federal and other resources that rural communities can leverage to support the increased deployment of broadband in their regions. USDA also plans on launching a new e-Connectivity pilot program in coming months focused on making broadband effective and accessible to all rural Americans. The effort also will work to address the needs of rural businesses.