Two senators have announced the Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program (B-CROP) Act, which would increase Rural Utilities Service funding for rural broadband by up to $50 million annually. Traditionally, RUS rural broadband funding has consisted only of low-interest loans, but the B-CROP Act calls for the RUS to also offer grants in conjunction with some of those loans.
The senators introducing the bill were West Virginia Republican senator Shelley Moore Capito and New York Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
“There is no doubt anymore that students and businesses in today’s world must have access to high-speed internet in order to get ahead, but too many of our rural communities still lack access to this essential technology,” said Gillibrand in a press release. “This bill would bring much-needed federal funding to our rural communities that want to install broadband internet but don’t have the resources to do it on their own.”
The grants proposed in the B-CROP Act would cover up to 50% of the construction and certain other development costs for a broadband deployment project and up to 75% in remote high-need areas.
In awarding grants, the RUS would be instructed to give priority to areas that lack high-speed broadband and that have the greatest proportion of rural households that are within unserved communities. The RUS also would be required to provide equal consideration for all eligible entities, including those that have not previously received grants or loans. And if two projects are of equal priority, the RUS would award funding first to the project requesting the lower amount of grant funding.
After prioritizing projects based on those criteria, the RUS would further prioritize projects for communities:
- With a population of fewer than 10,000 permanent residents
- That are experiencing outmigration
- With a high percentage of low-income residents
- That are isolated from other significant population centers
- That will receive a substantial portion of project funding from one or more stakeholders, including state, local and tribal governments; nonprofit and philanthropic institutions; community anchor institutions; and private entities.
The bill also calls for the RUS to coordinate with the FCC to ensure that any B-CROP grants “do not conflict” with universal service high-cost support.