Mobile Future

Innovative loan program aiding in rural broadband deployment

The Washington Post recently reported that one of the first things new Agriculture Secretary Edward Schafer did was to make it a priority to ensure the Rural Utility Service improved its loan process so companies can provide broadband to rural America.
It is just this type of program that, if properly implemented, is government at its best. Thanks to this partnership between the Agriculture Department and private industry that began in the 1920s, rural America has clean drinking water, electricity and telephone service.
For nearly a century, the Agriculture Department and the private sector have worked to ensure rural America has basic infrastructure, and in the 21st century broadband is a basic service. For small communities to thrive, being connected to the rest of the world is a necessity and broadband is their link to economic development, educational opportunities, and even opera.
Yet, as much as these communities may want something, the economic incentives must be there to deploy the infrastructure, whether it be fiber, cable or wireless towers. It is expensive to serve these areas and the return on that investment can be a long time in coming in sparsely populated areas. That is a tricky proposition for any company seeking traditional financing, where a return on the investment is often expected within a 12-month period. Because that isn’t always possible, the loan program made available by the Rural Utility Service is very important.
Take for example, Montana, where less than a million people live in a state that spans more than 147,000 square miles. Wireless broadband technology can be a cost-effective way to deploy broadband and in some cases it may be the most feasible way given the terrain and physical conditions of the land.
No matter which technology is being used, it takes significant investments to build broadband networks and offer service.  I wish Secretary Schafer luck in his efforts to make the RUS loans more readily available to those who want to offer broadband in rural areas.
This is the way government should be involved in the wireless industry – making available the needed resources to those who can deliver the much-needed services.