"There are lots of grants and proposals promising to help rural America. But the definition of 'rural' isn't always clear, and where a town falls in the pecking order can decide its access to funds," Jonathan Ahl reports for St. Louis Public Radio. "The definition of rural can take into account population, population density, distance from a big city and even the percentage of people that travel into a metro area to work. But there is no standardization, and that frustrates and perplexes some towns and counties."
For example, Houston, Mo., a community of about 2,500 surrounded by farmland, needs broadband funding, but city administrator Scott Avery told Ahl the town didn't qualify for one federal grant because the program defines "rural" as being more than 100 miles from a metro area. The closest metro area—Springfield—is nearly two hours away on the highway, but only 90 miles as the crow flies.
But, as one rural advocate told Ahl, the variety of definitions isn't totally bad; if there were only one definition, some places would never qualify for funding. "That's cold comfort" for Avery, Ahl reports. "While he does sometimes get grants targeted for rural America, he and his staff of two don't have the resources to chase after opportunities, only to find his small town far off the beaten path isn't rural enough."