by Joseph Weisenthal

USDA Rural Broadband Program A Cautionary Tale

from the canary-in-the-coalmine dept

Despite the many flaws with the Universal Service Fund (USF), there are still some people out there that think it should be greatly expanded, so that it can subsidize the buildout of rural broadband. Although the lack of broadband remains a problem in rural areas, it's really hard to see how the USF would solve the problem, considering how ineffective the program has been. It turns out that the USDA already runs a small (by government standards) program to help subsidize rural broadband (via Broadband Reports), which -- surprise, surprise -- is riddled with problems. Congressmen are threatening to revoke the program's funding after learning that it's been subsidizing loans in areas where there's already broadband, while ignoring areas that aren't served at all. You can be sure that whatever problems this small USDA program is having will be greatly magnified if it were to be adopted on a larger scale, so hopefully politicians see this as a warning sign.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    _Jon, May 2nd, 2007 @ 11:04am

    I read a report (somewhere) where an energy company (possibly Consumers Energy) is beginning a trial with a company to provide broadband via the electrical lines.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    James Stevens, May 2nd, 2007 @ 11:23am

    No broadband blows

    I'm about 6 miles out of a city with approx. 17,000 people... I'm on the main highway running out of the city and we don't have broadband access. So we're left with 3 choices: satellite (which isn't too good for gaming and uploading), wireless broadband (good, but expensive like satellite, to get all the equipment set up it's $500 and then $50/month), and dial-up which is $10/month. I ended up switching to wireless broadband but it's really a pain that there's no cable lines a mere 6 miles out of the city; this plan definitely isn't working in my area and we're not even that rural; it sucks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Chris, May 2nd, 2007 @ 11:30am

    Re: No broadband blows

    I'm in the same boat, but I literally live across the street from the city limits. I have no cable or dsl availability. I had to go with wireless internet myself. It beats satellite but it still sucks compared to cable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Mike, May 2nd, 2007 @ 12:50pm

    Don't complain- my only high-speed option is satellite at 79.95/month.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), May 2nd, 2007 @ 1:29pm


    How about we urbanites subsidize rural broadband when the ruralites subsidize my urban access to empty roads, clean air, open spaces, less noise and light pollution, shorter wait-lines, and a bigger house and land?

    There are trade-offs to where we choose to live. There are sacrifices to living in the city. There should also be sacrifices to living in the country. If free markets can reduce the sacrifices, then let's find the way. But if it takes my tax dollars, then I'm not interested.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous of Course, May 2nd, 2007 @ 2:00pm

    Trade-Offs and a point missed.

    I live in a rural area where my only access is over
    30 year old FDM lines with a 22.6K connection looking
    pretty good. When the lines are working.

    But I'm not complaining about that. I AM complaining
    that billions of dollars of tax payer's money has been
    spent on improving connectivity and the corporations
    involved took that money and then cherry picked the
    markets. The nearby town already had cable modem
    access to broadband and DSL but the money goes there
    instead of to the outlaying areas for which it was

    Oh, there is all the dark fiber that was laid but no
    upgrade to the CO until they can carry TV and other
    crap to bundle up with the broadband.

    Don't forget... I'm not debating IF this subsidy should
    be in place. Personally I don't think it's fair to
    expect my broadband access be subsidized. I'm upset that
    right or wrong the BILLIONS have been spent and there's
    diddly-squat to show for it. Some of that money was my
    tax dollars as well.

    So I've subsidzed the broadband access of people living
    in town, not the other way around. Or more correctly,
    the operations of broadband providers that took that
    money then didn't deliver the service.

    Screw the telco. A 5GHz back haul link isn't expensive.
    All I need is some roof space and a DSL line in town.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2007 @ 2:34pm

    Re: Trade-Offs and a point missed.

    Screw the telco. A 5GHz back haul link isn't expensive. All I need is some roof space and a DSL line in town.
    So you say, but yet you haven't done it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    rEdEyEz, May 2nd, 2007 @ 3:24pm

    Don't blame the corporations...

    From the article:
    "If you don't fix this, I guarantee you this committee will," House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) told James M. Andrew, administrator of the Rural Utilities Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "I don't know why it should be this hard."

    Key word: "subsidy"
    Problem: committee subsidy OVERSIGHT

    In my many years of working in the world of engineering, I have never met a contractor that will OFFER you "something more" than YOU asked/paid for, nor will they DO more than YOU asked/paid for.

    ...looks like SOMEONE took the money and ran...

    Hmmm, I'd bet that money went to districts/companies to help pay off election/appointee supporters...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Rick, May 2nd, 2007 @ 3:28pm

    I'm trying to find a house outside a town of about 20,000 people in northern Michigan, but it's becoming impossible to find one with broadband access. I earn my living online, so it's a necessity.

    I'd really love to live there, but it's sad to see myself considering not moving where I dream to live because I can't access the internet properly.

    I honestly doubt the government cares.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Charles Griswold, May 2nd, 2007 @ 4:19pm


    I honestly doubt the government cares.

    Bingo. Individual people (including public employees and elected officials) may care, but the government is not a thinking, feeling entity. It does not care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous of Course, May 3rd, 2007 @ 6:39am

    Re: Re: Trade-Offs and a point missed.

    I'm working on it. I have to find a site in
    town with a willing landlord and a clear view
    of my hill.

    The newer equipment which runs on POE makes the
    installation a breeze and it's license free so
    no dinking with the FCC.

    In the mid-70's, last time I installed a microwave
    data link, it was more difficult, expensive and
    provided less bandwidth.

    It's also not a high priority because I commute
    to work where bandwidth is plentiful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    frank burns, May 3rd, 2007 @ 2:29pm

    Rural Broadband

    Hi There, I'm located 300klms from the nearest city of Perth in Western Australia and I too, are in a remote rural corner. I have the technology & services here for ADSL from Telstra. Perhaps if you were to negotiate a deal with Telstra they may help you override the difficulties that you're having. The Australian Government adopted a plan with Telstra's involvement (HIBIS) to get all rural & remote subscribers on line in par with our city counterparts. Well, it worked and as a consumer of these services I haven't looked back at the days when I was on dial-up. Good Luck.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    David Hagan, May 4th, 2007 @ 9:48am

    Rural Broadband

    It is very important to develop a broadband map of America. This map would provide an infrastructure assessment of broadband availability throughout the U.S. Coupling this map with public reporting of actual broadband speeds, reliability, and prices would allow broadband build-out to be done more efficiently.

    Take a look at what has been accomplished by ConnectKentucky at There are some states that are successfully developing partnerships to expand broadband penetration into rural areas. You should also look at CWA's campaign called Speed Matters at The site details specific long term and short term proposals to build a fast, affordable, open, internet for all Americans.

    As a member of CWA I appreciate the efforts of CWA to educate its members and the general public about high speed Internet issues and America's low performance compared with other countries.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Snookybear (profile), May 20th, 2010 @ 7:42pm

    Rural areas are ignored

    My rural area outside of Hohenwald, Tennessee has been ignored. AT&T/ Bellsouth along with Charter Communications refuse to service this rural area due to the fact that it is a lower elevation and it is nothing but hills surrounding this community. I have communicated with workers in the field for AT&T and they esxplained to me that their company expanded one to one and a half miles farther out of the towns that they serve along with upgrading the infrastructure of the larger metropolitan areas. They claim that they have rural broadband.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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