Congress’ $1.3T omnibus spending plan includes $600M for rural broadband

Rural broadband got a bit of love from the government as Congress is earmarking $600 million for rural broadband as part of its $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill.

These funds will get delivered to service providers and other enablers of rural broadband through the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS).

The omnibus spending bill, which is aimed at funding the government through the end of September, would increase spending across defense and domestic programs by $143 billion.

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Congress’ proposal was applauded by NTCA, an organization that represents rural telcos.

Shirley Bloomfield

“NTCA commends today’s action by Congress to include $600 million in the omnibus for rural broadband deployment through a new pilot program to be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS),” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, in a release about the funding measure. “Small telcos have a proven track record in overcoming challenges in rural areas to provide robust, sustainable broadband, and their many efforts in conjunction with long-standing, highly-effective U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) backing are the embodiment of precisely the kinds of public-private partnerships that our nation should be leveraging to tackle such challenges in the future.”

Bloomfield said that NTCA has advocated for additional resources needed to make the business case for sustainable investments in rural broadband, including the coordination between federal broadband programs.

“We are grateful to Congress for its attention to rural broadband concerns, and consistent with the directives of Congress, we hope that this new effort will build upon, and be coordinated with, existing broadband-focused initiatives within RUS and at the Federal Communications Commission to realize the shared goal of robust, affordable and sustainable universal broadband,” Bloomfield said.

During the 99th annual American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Nashville, Tennessee, earlier this year, Donald Trump announced plans to allocate $50 billion to the Rural Infrastructure Program for capital investments in rural infrastructure. The rural broadband funds are part of the president’s new $1.5 trillion infrastructure package.

Out of the $50 billion figure, 80% of the funds under the Rural Infrastructure Program would be provided to the governor of each state via formula distribution. Each state governor, who will consult with designated federal agency and state directors of rural development, would be able to choose individual investments to respond to their unique rural needs.