Faster broadband standard set by federal agriculture department

19 April 2016 by Steve Blum
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It’ll get there eventually.

Minimum speeds for guaranteed broadband infrastructure loans from the federal agriculture department have been raised. The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) opened another round of loans earlier this month, and upped the benchmark speed for both area eligibility and funded infrastructure from 4 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload to 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up, for wireline and fixed and mobile wireless projects.

That brings the RUS minimum speeds in line with other federal broadband subsidy programs, particularly the Connect America Fund program run by the Federal Communications Commission, which will be giving more than half a billion dollars to incumbent telephone companies in California alone.

On the whole, the RUS loan program is also tilted toward incumbents – the nature of the beast is that it’s a lot easier for an existing business to borrow money than a start up. That’s true whether you’re applying to a bank or a subsidised rural loan guarantee program. Like all RUS programs, it’s also designed to serve rural areas that fit midwestern and southern conditions: small counties with small farms and small populations.

California is different. Our state has large agricultural operations, and workers who commute to the fields from towns that federal agencies consider too large to help. Standards are also different here – the minimum set by the California Public Utilities Commission is 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up. Slower download speeds, but higher on the upload side, which is more critical for businesses than for consumer applications. But federal rules are moving in the right direction, and make the case, if not the requirement for even better speeds…

With the development of new applications and the need for greater bandwidth, [RUS] strongly suggests that applicants applying for funding under this program consider system designs that will allow for 25 megabits downstream and 3 megabits upstream. Building to these requirements will ensure that facilities that are constructed today will also be able to handle the needs of the future.

It’s the direction that California should be heading towards too.