Article

New RISE Program Offers Another Avenue for Partnership Formation

Randy Sukow

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A filing window is open through Aug. 2 for a program that rural service providers potentially could use to build broadband or other communications business partnerships. Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) is a small program with $10 million in funding for FY 2021 and a plan to distribute grants of between $500,000 and $2 million payable over four years to a limited number of applicants.

However, there are other reasons to investigate RISE. It might be a useful program for entities that have not waded into a federal support process in the past.

“We’re putting together an informal group of federal partners,” said Mark Brodziski, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s deputy administrator, Rural Business-Cooperative Service, who gave a presentation on RISE during a recent meeting of the FCC’s Task Force on Precision Agriculture. “For those that we are unable to award … we would be able to link them to other federal partners. There could be other programs or activities that we could support.”

Late last month USDA, the FCC and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) reached an agreement (PDF) to coordinate their broadband programs, as mandated by a law Congress passed earlier this year. They have agreed to share information about their programs and work to standardize broadband coverage data. They will also work to avoid duplicating payments in the same geographical region.

Broadband and wireless communications focused on the internet of things are necessary tools for precision agriculture. Partnerships seeking to establish those services in farm areas could be eligible for RISE funding, Brodziski said. The government will be doing more to match proposed projects to the right funding program.

RISE differs from other new programs now coming online in that it was enacted through the 2018 Farm Bill and not one of the bills passed in the last year in reaction to COVID-19. For various reasons, USDA did not publish the final rules for the program until June of this year. Its purpose is, according to the program’s web page, “to create and augment high-wage jobs, accelerate the formation of new businesses, support industry clusters and maximize the use of local productive assets in eligible low-income rural areas.”

Brodziski said that USDA will be flexible about the types of projects it funds, allowing the partners to define its business goals. “Partners in the region could include institutions of higher education, could be other nonprofits, public entities, private entities, private businesses or electric co-ops,” he said. “Really, any and all players in that region.” However, he said the lead partner on the application should be a county economic development group, the chamber of commerce or some similar nonprofit community group.
 

Update, 11 a.m.: We have removed a link to a planned RiSE webinar that appeared in the original verion because it is not operational.

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