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December 19, 2018

Following Push from King, USDA Outlines Rules for Broadband Pilot Program in Rural America

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today applauded an announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) outlining its rules for a new rural broadband pilot program. The program, which includes several provisions supported by King, is offering up to $600 million in loans and grants to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America. Congress created and allocated the funding for the pilot program in the March 2018 omnibus appropriations bill.

“In rural states like Maine, access to broadband is essential for students to learn and for businesses to grow,” Senator King said. “The USDA’s new pilot program will focus critical investments towards building and expanding high-speed internet for our rural communities, so people in Maine and across the country – regardless of where they choose to live or work – can have the opportunity to compete and succeed in the 21st century economy.”

In September 2018, Senator King wrote a letter to the USDA seeking specific provisions in the pilot program, a number of which were included in the department’s rules governing the program which were released last week. These include:

  • Acquiring up-to-date broadband mapping data through partnerships with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and state governments, and by collecting information from on-the-ground field tests.
  • Accounting for the scope and depth of partnerships between funding applicants and local governments, employers and other key regional institutions when making funding decisions.
  • Maximizing the benefit of these funds by seeking projects in states like Maine that have completed robust broadband planning efforts.

The USDA pilot program, which Senator King pushed for as part of the March 2018 omnibus bill, mirrors the B-CROP Act, legislation Senator King cosponsored in August 2017 that would expand the resources available for building broadband infrastructure by bolstering an existing USDA loan program to include grant funding to help support projects in rural and tribal areas.

Connectivity in rural regions is a key part of Senator King’s economic agenda to help grow Maine’s rural economy, support innovation and create jobs, and in January he sent a bipartisan letter to the President with his co-chairs on the Senate Broadband Caucus urging stand-alone funding for broadband deployment in any proposed infrastructure package. During his time in office, Senator King has supported the modernization of federal broadband programs, including the FCC’s E-rate program, which supports school and library internet access, and the USDA’s Broadband Loan Program. This summer, he met with farmers in Exeter to discuss the importance of rural broadband to fuel agricultural innovation, and he is also a cosponsor of the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018, elements of which were included in the Farm Bill.

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