Federal ag department looks to co-ops to lead broadband development

16 April 2018 by Steve Blum
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At least one member of the Trump administration isn’t trying to smack local broadband initiatives with a preemption sledgehammer. Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue spoke to a gathering of representatives of rural electric cooperatives. Those are (usually) small electric systems that are organised as buyer cooperatives – electric customers are the owners. The federal agriculture department has been subsidising them for more than 80 years. Many of those co-ops have branched off into the broadband business, also with subsidies from the agriculture department’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS).… More

Rural broadband wins a round in the battle of the Beltway swamp

23 August 2017 by Steve Blum
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I might have been wrong about Sonny Perdue. He’s the former governor of Georgia and lifelong agribusinessman that is now the Trump administration’s agriculture secretary. At the least, my critique of his background didn’t take agribusiness-as-usual into account.

The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) is part of his domain – it’s an agency within the federal agriculture department that, among other things, gives out loans and some grants to pay for broadband service upgrades and expansion in rural areas.… More

USDA embraces 25 Mbps broadband standard even as FCC dumbs it down

15 August 2017 by Steve Blum
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Somebody knows when to crank it up.

The minimum acceptable broadband speed in rural areas is now 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. At least according to the federal agriculture department.

The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) offers loans to broadband providers – cooperatives and small telephone companies frequently tap the program – for service upgrades in areas that meet the agency’s requirements. One of those requirements deals with the speed and availability of existing service – if a provider is expanding into new territory, then at least 15% of the homes in that area must be “unserved”, as defined by RUS.… More

Federal broadband development swamp heads south

29 April 2017 by Steve Blum
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The south rises again.

If you were hoping that Donald Trump’s campaign promise to drain the Beltway swamp was going to shake up the agriculture subsidy machine that funnels broadband development money to the south and midwest at California’s expense, then it looks like you’re going to be disappointed.

The U.S. senate confirmed former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue as agriculture secretary this week. He has spent his life in the southern farming industry, as a boy growing up on a farm, as a veterinarian, as governor and as a commodities trader.… More

Antique tech is good enough for USDA, so it must be fine for everyone else

5 May 2016 by Steve Blum
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We’re upgrading to Pong next year.

All of a sudden, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s – and, consequently, the Federal Communication Commission’s – belief that slow 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds are adequate benchmarks for rural broadband infrastructure development makes sense. Technologically, the USDA is a decade behind everyone else. That’s an entire lifetime in Silicon Valley dog years.

I had signed up for a USDA webinar on the new round of the Community Connect broadband grant program yesterday (which sets an even lower, 4 Mbps download standard).… More

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.… More

Rural means something different in California

8 September 2015 by Steve Blum
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California has been shut out of federal broadband grants for infrastructure projects in rural areas for the past several years. I was asked why don’t California’s wineries and farms throw lobbying dollars at the problem?

The wineries and farms don’t need to. California agriculture is characterised by large corporate holdings (albeit sometimes family controlled). The ag operations themselves can usually get sufficient connectivity, by building their own point to point microwave links and, occasionally, fiber connections.… More

Federal rural broadband stimulus program slammed

9 August 2015 by Steve Blum
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Not much to show for $3 billion.

The federal agriculture department’s Rural Utilities Service is broken, according to a long and well researched article by Tony Romm in Politico. Given $3 billion in stimulus money by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, RUS approved broadband infrastructure builds that couldn’t or wouldn’t be completed – about half of the 300 or so approved projects are still works in progress, and 42 of those never got started at all.… More

New rules for federal broadband loans in rural areas don't change eastern bias

3 August 2015 by Steve Blum
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Most of the broadband blank zones are in the west, most of the money goes east. Go figure.

The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) is the arm of the federal agriculture department that runs broadband grant and loan programs. It’s just published new application rules for loans to build broadband infrastructure in poorly served rural areas. Highlights include…

  • The minimum acceptable broadband speed is set at 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up; any area with less than that is considered unserved by federal standards.

USDA broadband grants ditch California again

27 July 2015 by Steve Blum
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It’s sounding like a broken record (if anyone actually remembers what a broken record sounds like). The federal agriculture department’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) announces another round of Community Connect grants, for local broadband projects in poorly served or completely unserved areas, applications come in, the winners are announced and California comes up with goose eggs (anyone remember what that means either?).

That’s been the story for four years running now. RUS awarded a total of $13 million in Community Connect grants for five projects in four states: Alaska, Minnesota (which was down for two), Oklahoma and Virginia.… More