Written by Jonathan Adelstein, Administrator, Rural Utilities Service
I traveled to Philadelphia today to join the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC) for their 2010 national forum. We partner with CFC to finance electric cooperatives across rural America. It was a chance to talk about the progress USDA has made over the last 75 years toward rural electrification, and how we are on the frontlines again to bring access to high speed broadband to rural America.
In 1935, our agency was challenged to bring affordable electricity to millions of farms, ranches and homes in rural America. Today we face a similar challenge with deployment of broadband.
Rural Utilities Service (RUS), the agency I oversee, has been working with national partners such as the CFC to advance new policies and programs to develop and invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and smart grid technology. Integrated into our strategy is deployment of broadband. The Congress and President Obama included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to jump start this effort. To date, we have committed investment of more than $1 billion for 68 rural broadband infrastructure projects in 32 states. That means over 500,000 households, 97,000 businesses and 3,300 anchor institutions will see the way they do business dramatically change – new opportunities for emerging markets, better access to health care and education.
Successful applicants include electric cooperative borrowers such as the Consolidated Electric Cooperative, who was selected for a loan-grant combination of over $2 million to construct a 166-mile middle mile network that will bring major city connectivity into underserved areas of North Central Ohio. It’ll provide badly needed connectivity for key community facilities and wireless internet service providers. It will also connect all of Consolidated’s substations to support its smart grid technology initiative.
This is exactly what we like to see – expanded broadband connectivity combined with sustainable, smart grid technology – delivered to rural America. It is this kind of leveraging between our electric and telecommunications program delivery that will help our cooperative partners offer key energy efficiency tools to residential consumers so that they can monitor their usage and reduce their monthly electricity costs.
These critical broadband investments will help keep the United States at the center of innovation, and they will bring greater job opportunities to our rural communities. It is the link to long-term sustainable economic growth that our rural communities so urgently need.