NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association submitted feedback regarding the Rural Utilities Service’s e-Connectivity Pilot Program during a comment period provided by the RUS.
The e-Connectivity Pilot Program was was made possible by a $600 million appropriation from Congress in the Consolidated Budget Act of 2018. The USDA is working to create new funding and finance offerings through this pilot program to expand rural broadband in underserved rural and tribal areas.
Comments made by TECA to the RUS highlighted the successes of Tennessee’s electric co-ops in broadband and the need for additional funding to speed deployment. TECA affirmed comments made by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and requested consideration of seven additional suggestions:
- Projects that achieve universal service inside a provider’s service territory should be incentivized over similar projects that leave significant gaps in coverage between communities
- Projects that leverage additional investment in broadband infrastructure beyond the receipt of a grant itself should be incentivized over a similar project(s) that rely solely upon the program itself for its existence
- Allow applicant(s) an opportunity to rebut any challenges of eligibility by third parties
- Allow flexibility to award funds to any party participating in a partnership or other project that involves multiple eligible parties
- Allow grants to be payable in multiple awards, rather than a single payment, if so desired by the recipient
- Allow a small percentage of grants to be usable for start-up expenses of subsidiary entities
- Provide loan products inside the pilot program at an interest rate below what is otherwise available by existing RUS programs, including FFB loans, or other more advantageous terms.
“We believe that the RUS’s e-Connectivity Pilot Program has the potential to have a meaningful impact on the expansion of broadband in rural Tennessee,” says Mike Knotts, vice president of government affairs with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We appreciate Secretary Purdue and the team at RUS for considering the input of Tennessee’s electric cooperatives.”
You can read TECA’s full comments below.TECA RUS e-Connectivity Comments