Obama seeks to boost high-speed Internet in rural areas

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2015 -- The Obama administration is launching a new push for expanding high-speed Internet service in rural areas and other underserved parts of the country.

The president is visiting Cedar Falls, Iowa, today to promote that city's broadband effort and will be using his State of the Union message next week to highlight the need for broader availability of high-speed Internet service, including in rural areas.

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To accompany the president's visit, the Agriculture Department will announce that it's accepting applications to its Community Connect broadband grant program and reopening a restructured loan program authorized under the 2014 farm bill. About $40 million to $50 million in loans are to be made available through the program.

The farm bill has new reporting requirements and revised the criteria for prioritizing loan applications.

“Every American should have options for better, faster broadband,” said Jeff Zients, director of the White House's National Economic Council,

“In the 1930s many argued that electricity was a luxury, something too costly to bring to rural communities and every American. … We're at a similar moment today.”

The administration isn't offering any new funding, however, beyond what Congress has already authorized.

The president is formally urging the Federal Communications Commission to address state laws that the White House believes stymie competition in broadband.

His initiatives also will include establishing a “broadband opportunity council” that will among other things solicit public comment on unnecessary regulatory barriers. The Commerce Department will start an effort called Broadband USA to provide technical assistance.

Cedar Falls is one of several cities that have worked to form partnerships to promote broadband service, the White House said. Cedar Falls Utilities last year began offering service of 1 gigabit per second, earning recognition from Google,.

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