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Comments sought on broadband effort

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is inviting comments on the implementation of the e-Connectivity Broadband Pilot Program through Sept. 10.

The pilot project was established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 on March 23.

USDA is developing this pilot program to catalyze private investment and bring broadband to unserved rural areas of the country.

The new program provides a unique opportunity to develop modern methods to leverage federal funds to increase private investment in broadband services for as many rural American homes, businesses, farms, schools and health-care facilities as possible, the department said.

According to a 2018 report by the Federal Communications Commission, 80 percent of the 24 million American households that do not have reliable, affordable, high-speed internet are in rural areas.

Without e-Connectivity, rural Americans cannot reach their full productivity in the workplace, receive the best education in schools nor the finest health care in hospitals, the USDA said in a recent news release.

This rural broadband pilot program was proposed by President Donald Trump and was made possible by a $600 million appropriation from Congress in the Consolidated Budget Act of 2018. As a result, USDA is able to create new funding and finance offerings through this pilot program to expand rural broadband in underserved rural and tribal areas.

The framework outlined by Congress allows these new federal funds to be deployed in rural areas with a population of 20,000 or less.

A wide variety of entities are eligible for funding, including incumbent and competitive rural telephone and broadband service providers, rural electric cooperatives, private firms (but not sole proprietors or partnerships), nonprofits and governmental bodies.

Comments can be submitted to the federal register at bit.ly/2M1ne4T

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community services such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas.

For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov

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