Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Obama Administration Fights for Rural Broadband Funding Reprieve

Obama: "I will not sacrifice core investments..." 04/13/2011 San Francisco - Elements of the Obama Administration and the rural service provider lobby are now working with Members of Congress from rural districts to restore at least some of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Broadband Access Loan Program this year.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
Government and industry sources are now quietly expressing the hope that over half of the proposed broadband loan authority of $700 million in USDA's Rural Utilities  Service (RUS) will be made available.

Republican members of the House Committee on Appropriations, had proposed fully defunding the Program this year.  They had done so using two recent continuing resolutions cobbled together over the past 40 days.

The CRs removed the underlying  appropriations and credit authority necessary to leverage the $700 million figure.

A Deal is Seen
Late Monday evening House Appropriations and the House Committee on Rules separately issued documents that revealed the details of negotiations  between the House and Senate. Those details, now being reviewed by USDA budget analysts and trade groups, signal a deal to fund $300 million to $400 million in federal loans in the broadband program.

Detail level analysis is needed to establish the loan amounts which RUS can finally issue. The final loan dollars to be delivered is based on variables of actual appropriations, allowed carry overs from prior authorizations, and the credit subsidy level set. 

Preliminary estimates suggest possible scale backs to the Community Connect Grant Program and to the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program. A funding goal of the former had been set at $25 m million at the former, and $30 million at the latter. Similarly, initial analysis suggests that this year's Telecommunication Loan Program will retain a "program level" funding of $690 million.

On March 30th broke the story that all four funding programs, 96% of the dollar value of which are comprised of loans to be repaid to the U.S. Treasury, were under threat of severe cuts.    

To deliver these grant and loan levels, a legislative deal needs to hold through to tomorrow's scheduled votes on Capitol Hill on the final fiscal year 2011 federal budget. If achieved, it will signal a partial victory for President Obama's Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack over House appropriators. 

The President Weighs In
It is not at all a coincidence that President Obama mentioned his strong commitment to  broadband infrastructure support in his speech on federal deficit reduction earlier today.  

"I will not sacrifice the core investments that we need to grow and create jobs.  We will invest in medical research," said the President.

"We will invest in clean energy technology.  We will invest in new roads and airports and broadband access.  We will invest in education.  We will invest in job training.  We will do what we need to do to compete, and we will win the future." 

House Republicans & Tea Party Play into Industry Competition
Starting in late February as GOP appropriators in the House began to be focused on cuts to the Program, an increasing number of right wing media outlets, conservative pundits, and Tea Party associated critics of the Administration began their attacks on the same initiative.

The fact the effort worked on even Republican members from rural districts is but one of the ironies of this fascinating insight into the ways competition is playing out in the American telecom sector.


A Call To Action: Call your two U.S. Senators, and your Member of Congress. Tell them why you want them to vote in favor of restoring this important funding. 

Watch us for specific updates of the Sections and program levels to be mentioned. Don't wait for that final information. Call now.

U.S. Senate Contact  & Senator Lookup

U.S. House Contact & Member Lookup 

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