Both the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Commerce are progressing ahead on rural broadband agency priority goals (APG) as a part of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) with some help from emergency funds in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
In just the first two quarters of Fiscal Year 2020, the team behind USDA’s rural broadband APG distributed over $847 million in loans and grants to 96 projects in 36 states. Through the ReConnect program supported by the APG, USDA has provided broadband services to over 150,000 households, according to the agency’s July 2020 PMA update.
As the COVID-19 pandemic increased urgency for access to broadband, USDA’s APG received $25 million in the CARES Act to support distance learning and telemedicine and $100 million in ReConnect grants. USDA’s program outreach and development efforts, including webinar series on the grants and loans, have also switched to a fully operational telework environment amid the pandemic.
Looking ahead, USDA is on track to complete its telecom infrastructure program regulation milestone by the end of the year.
At Commerce, the public safety broadband program FirstNet expanded to cover an additional 4.5 percent of rural populations – or 2.2 million more people – in the first quarter of FY2020. AT&T, the private sector company supporting FirstNet, completed its broadband coverage deliverables for agency review and validation in line with program milestones.
Commerce reviewed and validated the AT&T data to determine the rural population covered by the program and is in the progress of repeating those steps with quarter two data, per the July 2020 update.