Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) has introduced a bill intended to reform the criticized Rural Broadband Access and Loan Guarantee program, which was designed to expand broadband access in rural areas.
The proposed Rural Broadband Initiative Act of 2006 would establish an Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives at the Department of Agriculture. It would create an Undersecretary for Rural Broadband who would coordinate several rural broadband grant and loan programs including the Rural Broadband Access and Loan Guarantee program. The Undersecretary would be charged with developing a comprehensive rural broadband strategy to facilitate broadband access in rural areas as quickly as possible.
Also, the bill would establish a Rural Broadband Innovation Fund that would invest in experimental and cutting-edge applications that can deliver broadband service to rural areas including satellite, fiber, WiFi, and broadband over power lines (BPL).
Finally, the bill would establish a Rural Broadband Advisory Panel that would include members of both the public and private sector to discuss issues relating to broadband deployment and offer advice and guidance to the Undersecretary in developing a comprehensive rural broadband strategy.
Clinton said the General Accounting Office has calculated that about 30 percent of households in urban and suburban areas have access to broadband, compared to 17 percent of rural households.
The numbers seem at odds with published numbers from service providers themselves and from a variety of market research companies, which place the penetration of broadband at more than double the GAO’s estimate. The disparity could not be reconciled by press time.
“The United States currently ranks 16th in the world in broadband deployment and rural communities simply can’t continue to wait until rural broadband development becomes as economically viable as it is in our cities and suburbs,” Clinton said.