Half a gigabuck offered for federal rural broadband subsidies, but California faces challenges

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Rus reconnect eligibility map yolo 12dec2019

Another round of broadband infrastructure subsidies is on the way from the federal agriculture department. A six week application window for the Rural Utilities Service’s (RUS) Reconnect program opens on 31 January 2020, with $512 million on the table.

It appears that the problems with the ReConnect program that shut California out of the first round of grants and loans earlier this year haven’t been fixed. On the face of it, the basic eligibility criteria are pretty simple…

90 percent of the proposed funded service area must not have sufficient access to broadband. Applicants must propose to build a network that is capable of providing service to every premise located in the proposed funded service area at the time the application is submitted at a speed of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.

So what is “sufficient”?

Sufficient access to broadband means any rural area in which household have fixed, terrestrial broadband service delivering at least 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream. Mobile and satellite services will not be considered in making the determination of sufficient access to broadband.

So far, so good. All you need to do is document a lack of broadband service at 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds and the money is yours, right?

Wrong.

Although it’s not required by the rules – new or old – RUS publishes data showing what’s eligible and what’s not, and that’s that. There’s no established process for making your own eligibility case, or to point out the demographic, geographic and economic differences between California and, say, Kansas or Alabama. In the past, RUS’s mapping has been crude. This time around, they’ve published a new data set. I haven’t crunched it yet, so I can’t say whether or not it’s an improvement, but a quick look at their map – an example is above – shows that big chunks of rural California are still considered off limits.

Even so, the devil will be in the details. Stay tuned.