NCTA Praises RUS Reforms in Farm Bill

Senate Agriculture Committee backs better targeting of broadband subsidies
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ISPs Thursday were praising the Senate Agriculture Committee's passage of the Farm Bill, specifically provisions in the bill that square with their view of how broadband should and should not be subsidized.

The bill includes reforms to the USDA's Rural Utility Service (RUS) broadband funding program to better target the funds to unserved areas where there is no high-speed broadband, rather than to underserved areas where the money could be used to overbuild existing commercial providers, ISPs said.

Related: Senators Challenge FCC Rural Broadband Map

The RUS program only requires 15% of an applicant's targeted service area to be to unserved areas, meaning 85% of the funds could be used to build where there are already up to two providers.

According to NTCA, the new language would require that new loan applications have 90% unserved households.

ISPs have long argued that government broadband funds should go to build out broadband, not overbuild it, and pushed the agriculture committees to square the RUS funds with that philosophy. Fans of the program argued that some overbuilding was necessary to make the more expensive unserved buildout portions sustainable.

Related: ISPS to Senate: Limit Rural Overbuilds

"The Senate Farm Bill includes important reforms to the USDA Rural Utility Service’s broadband funding programs so that federal resources are better dedicated to connecting Americans that currently lack high-speed internet service instead of funding additional networks in communities that already have it," said NCTA-the Internet & Television Association in a statement. "The bill also includes important transparency, notice and challenge processes to provide the agency with up-to-date information about broadband availability and to guard against waste, fraud and abuse. Connecting more Americans to the internet has been a bipartisan priority for years. It is a priority we share, and we urge the full Senate to swiftly take up and approve this legislation with these important reforms.”

Separately, Republican-backed bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to similarly ensure that government money targeted to subsidize rural broadband, a White House and FCC priority, is not going to overbuild existing service.

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