Rural Coalition Urges Codifying 100 Mbps for ReConnect Funding

Randy Sukow

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NRTC, NRECA and NTCA, The Rural Broadband Association were part of a coalition that signed a letter to Congressional leaders calling on them to write 100 Mbps symmetrical in as a minimum requirement for funding future broadband projects through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Congress currently is considering a new Farm Bill, which likely would include re-authorization of USDA’s ReConnect Loan and Grant Program.

“Employing a lesser standard would represent an inefficient step backwards, flying in the face of the substantial demand,” 16 rural groups said in the letter dated yesterday (March 14).

The last Farm Bill, enacted in 2018, set minimum speeds of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. However, by the time USDA organized the third round of ReConnect funding in 2021, the agency adopted a rule to raise the minimum to 100 Mbps symmetrical. Applications for support exceeded available funds, even under the faster, more costly obligation.

“The overwhelming demand for ReConnect funding … proves that setting a high standard for network and service capabilities does not deter applicants whatsoever, but rather demonstrates a surplus of interest by providers willing and able to deliver better broadband in rural America,” the coalition said.

In late 2022 and early 2023, USDA has announced several third-round awards of loans, grants and loan/grant combinations to NRTC members. The agency also has already collected applications for a $1.15 billion Round 4.

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