The Agriculture Department revved up its time machine Thursday and announced that more funding will soon be in the pipeline to support broadband deployment in rural areas. But here's the kicker: the money stems from the 2008 Farm Bill.
During a conference call with reporters, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that "several hundred millions of dollars" worth of loans would soon be available to help rural communities, including businesses, schools, hospitals and homes, connect to high-speed Internet service. He was not able to provide a more precise figure at this time.
But why wait three years to make the announcement? Distribution of the funding was stalled after the 2009 economic stimulus program required Agriculture to help disseminate $7.2 billion in broadband-related loans and grants, Vilsack said. Agriculture also needed time to address concerns raised by the department's Inspector General that the criteria for eligibility under the 2008 program needed to be tightened to ensure the money would reach areas that are truly rural, and have few or no other service providers.
Vilsack said his department has made the necessary changes, and incorporated lessons from the 2009 stimulus program, and is ready to proceed. Using seemingly contradictory terms, he said the new "interim final" rules would be open to public comment, with submissions due by May 14. Nevertheless, parties can begin applying for the funding now, he emphasized.
For more information on the Farm Bill broadband loan program, click here