Agriculture Under Secretary Proposes Rule to Spur Development of Rural Broadband Networks

Weldon Freeman
District of Columbia
Release Date
Nov 16, 2012

Agriculture Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager today announced a plan to spur the development of rural broadband networks.

“Fast, reliable, affordable broadband is essential for rural communities,” Tonsager said. “It helps businesses remain competitive in the national and global marketplace, and it helps residents have access to the same goods and services as people in metropolitan areas.”

The plan, published in today’s Federal Register, would allow USDA to give funding priority to broadband projects in areas of greatest need. The changes would apply to projects funded through the Community Connect grant program, which is administered by the Rural Utilities Service, part of the Rural Development mission area.

In addition to targeting resources to the most unserved rural communities, the proposed changes would streamline the grant application process. Applicants would be able to use matching funds to cover operating costs of broadband projects (they cannot do so now), and they would be able to use grant funds for an entire geographic area instead of for a single community. The changes also would allow application scoring criteria to include factors such as the speed of proposed broadband service, and the level of service provided to people with disabilities.

See page 68705 of the November 16, 2012 Federal Register, or go to to view the entire proposal. The deadline to submit comments is before January 15, 2013.

For examples of USDA investments in rural communities, please visit

President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are committed to a smarter use of Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families in rural communities.

USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, has an active portfolio of more than $174 billion in loans and loan guarantees. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America.