America’s Electric Cooperatives Applaud USDA Rural Broadband Pilot Program

ARLINGTON, Va. – NRECA CEO Jim Matheson today welcomed an announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the launch of its e-Connectivity pilot program established by Congress.

“Today is a good day for rural America and the families and businesses that call it home,” Matheson said. “Secretary Perdue’s announcement lays the groundwork for an improved approach to making broadband a reality across rural America. This pilot program, and the strong broadband provisions included in the 2018 Farm Bill, highlight a much-needed shift in federal policy to make rural broadband a possibility for the estimated 23 million Americans who lack it.

“Electric cooperatives are driven by a deep connection to their communities. That community-focus has led more than 100 electric co-ops to launch broadband deployment projects to help modernize rural economies. Broadband access at the right speed is absolutely essential for the growth of communities that today are suffering because of the digital divide. We look forward to working with federal policymakers and other stakeholders as we build on these positive developments and make new strides to close that divide.”

America’s electric cooperatives played a key role in the development of this new pilot program. We are very pleased that the pilot program adopts a 25/3 sufficiency standard and will prioritize applications that would deliver speeds in excess of the 25/3 minimum standard.

NRECA supports five success factors for making rural broadband available to every American. They include:

  • Providing additional financing support through a combination of grants and loans.
  • Encouraging better broadband coverage data collection to spotlight service gaps.
  • Allowing all capable providers to have equal access to federal funding, regardless of technology.
  • Prioritizing grants to projects in areas with the lowest population density, given that is a prime cost driver of the lack of broadband deployment.
  • Ensuring that broadband systems funded with federal money meet the growing speed and data consumption needs of today and the future.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landmass. As local businesses built by the consumers they serve, electric cooperatives have meaningful ties to rural America and invest $12 billion annually in their communities.