Friday, April 08, 2011

Budget bill would shut broadband loan program USDA wants to restart; expert cites rural need

The continuing resolution to keep the federal government from shutting down at midnight tonight "will wipe out the Broadband Loan Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the present federal fiscal year," Stimulating Broadband reports. The program, started in 2002, had been suspended while the administration used a much larger pool of economic-stimulus money, but USDA officials had planned to restart it with money left over from the 2008 Farm Bill.

Defending federal investment in broadband for rural areas, Sharon Strover of the University of Texas writes for the Daily Yonder, "Rural communities will be economically crippled without broadband access." About 68 percent of U.S. households have broadband, but in rural areas the figure is only 58 percent. Some of the difference stems from fewer people buying available service, but many places still lack high-speed service. (USDA photo via Yonder: Pine Telephone Co. in Oklahoma brings broadband to the Choctaw Nation with federal funds)

Strover, a national expert on rural broadband, says "Broadband will not bring immediate economic transformation to rural America. But regions that lack broadband will be crippled. Having broadband may not necessarily mean a sharp increase in jobs; however, not having broadband will probably mean fewer jobs . . . because Internet connectivity increasingly is necessary for many political, economic and social transactions."

Strover, who researches the impact of broadband on rural areas, acknowledges that its impact can be difficult to measure and will not be as great as that of rural electrification, but advises, "This technology does offer the prospect for profound changes in the future, changes we cannot begin to foresee." (Read more)

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