Congress Passes 2004 Budget Bill – Capital Available for Broadband Expansion in Rural Markets
On Jan. 22, 2004, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2004 (H.R. 2673), which provides full funding for the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Broadband Access Loans and Loan Guarantees Program (“Program”). The purpose of the Program—which is administered by the Rural Utilities Service (“RUS”)—is to provide loans and guarantees for construction, improvement and acquisition of facilities and equipment that make broadband services available in rural areas.
H.R. 2673 authorizes funds for the Program through Sept. 30, 2004. Specifically, Congress has appropriated $602 million for new broadband loans, $13 million for broadband subsidies, and $9 million for broadband grants. Any company—irrespective of its communications platform—may apply for most of these funds, which are generally available at below market interest rates. In addition, the RUS estimates that it has approximately $1 billion in additional funds that will be rolled over into Fiscal Year 2004 and any company may apply for those funds as well.
To take advantage of the full benefits of the Program, rural broadband providers should begin compiling the information needed to complete the RUS application. RUS reviews applications on a first-in, first-out basis, as long as funds remain available. Priority is given to applicants in eligible rural communities in which broadband service is not available. The RUS will release application deadline dates shortly after the President signs H.R. 2673, which is expected to occur next week.
We urge eligible clients to contact us as soon as possible to obtain our assistance with the application and approval process, and to interface with RUS personnel with whom we have been in contact throughout the appropriations process.