(a) Purpose

The purpose of this section is to provide grants, provide loans, and provide loan guarantees to provide funds for the costs of the construction, improvement, and acquisition of facilities and equipment for broadband service in rural areas.

(b) Definitions

Terms Used In 7 USC 950bb

  • Amendment: A proposal to alter the text of a pending bill or other measure by striking out some of it, by inserting new language, or both. Before an amendment becomes part of the measure, thelegislature must agree to it.
  • Fiscal year: The fiscal year is the accounting period for the government. For the federal government, this begins on October 1 and ends on September 30. The fiscal year is designated by the calendar year in which it ends; for example, fiscal year 2006 begins on October 1, 2005 and ends on September 30, 2006.
  • Interest rate: The amount paid by a borrower to a lender in exchange for the use of the lender's money for a certain period of time. Interest is paid on loans or on debt instruments, such as notes or bonds, either at regular intervals or as part of a lump sum payment when the issue matures. Source: OCC

In this section:

(1) Broadband service

The term “broadband service” means any technology identified by the Secretary as having the capacity to transmit data to enable a subscriber to the service to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video.

(2) Incumbent service provider

The term “incumbent service provider”, with respect to an application submitted under this section, means an entity that, as of the date of submission of the application, is providing broadband service to not less than 5 percent of the households in the service territory proposed in the application.

(3) Rural area

(A) In general

The term “rural area” means any area other than–

(i) an area described in clause (i) or (ii) of section 1991(a)(13)(A) of this title; and

(ii) in the case of a grant or direct loan, a city, town, or incorporated area that has a population of greater than 20,000 inhabitants.

(B) Urban area growth

The Secretary may, by regulation only, consider an area described in section 1991(a)(13)(F)(i)(I) of this title to not be a rural area for purposes of this section.

(C) Exclusion of certain populations

Such term does not include any population described in subparagraph (H) or (I) of section 1991(a)(13) of this title.

(c) Grants, loans, and loan guarantees

(1) In general

The Secretary shall make grants, shall make loans, and shall guarantee loans to eligible entities described in subsection (d) to provide funds for the construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment for the provision of broadband service in rural areas.

(2) Priority

(A) In general

In making grants, making loans, and guaranteeing loans under paragraph (1), the Secretary shall–

(i) give the highest priority to applications for projects to provide broadband service to unserved rural communities that do not have any residential broadband service of at least–

(I) a 10-Mbps downstream transmission capacity; and

(II) a 1-Mbps upstream transmission capacity;


(ii) give priority to applications for projects to provide the maximum level of broadband service to the greatest proportion of rural households in the proposed service area identified in the application;

(iii) provide equal consideration to all eligible entities, including those that have not previously received grants, loans, or loan guarantees under paragraph (1); and

(iv) with respect to 2 or more applications that are given the same priority under clause (i), give priority to an application that requests less grant funding than loan funding.

(B) Other

After giving priority to the applications described in clauses (i) and (ii) of subparagraph (A), the Secretary shall then give priority to applications–

(i) for projects to provide broadband service to rural communities–

(I) with a population of less than 10,000 permanent residents;

(II) that are experiencing outmigration and have adopted a strategic community investment plan under section 2008v(d) of this title that includes considerations for improving and expanding broadband service;

(III) with a high percentage of low income families or persons (as defined in section 1471(b) of title 42);

(IV) that are isolated from other significant population centers; or

(V) that provide rapid and expanded deployment of fixed and mobile broadband on cropland and ranchland within a service territory for use in various applications of precision agriculture; and


(ii) that were developed with the participation of, and will receive a substantial portion of the funding for the project from, 2 or more stakeholders, including–

(I) State, local, and tribal governments;

(II) nonprofit institutions;

(III) community anchor institutions, such as–

(aa) public libraries;

(bb) elementary schools and secondary schools (as defined in section 7801 of title 20);

(cc) institutions of higher education; and

(dd) health care facilities;


(IV) private entities;

(V) philanthropic organizations; and

(VI) cooperatives.

(3) Grant amounts

(A) Definition of development costs

In this paragraph, the term “development costs” means costs of–

(i) construction, including labor and materials;

(ii) project applications; and

(iii) other development activities, as determined by the Secretary.

(B) Eligibility

To be eligible for a grant under this section, in addition to the requirements of subsection (d), the project that is the subject of the grant shall–

(i) be carried out in a proposed service territory in which not less than 90 percent of the households are unserved; and

(ii) not concurrently receive any other broadband grant administered by the Rural Utilities Service.

(C) Maximum

Except as provided in subparagraph (D), the amount of any grant made under this section shall not exceed–

(i) 75 percent of the total project cost with respect to an area with a density of fewer than 7 people per square mile;

(ii) 50 percent of the total project cost with respect to an area with a density of 7 or more and fewer than 12 people per square mile; and

(iii) 25 percent of the total project cost with respect to an area with a density of 12 or more and 20 or fewer people per square mile.

(D) Secretarial authority to adjust

The Secretary may–

(i) make grants of up to 75 percent of the development costs of the project for which the grant is provided to an eligible entity if the Secretary determines that the project serves–

(I) an area of rural households described in paragraph (2)(A)(i); or

(II) a rural community described in any of subclauses (I) through (IV) of paragraph (2)(B)(i); and


(ii) make modifications of the density thresholds described in subparagraph (C), in order to ensure that funds provided under this section are best utilized to provide broadband service in communities that are the most rural in character.

(E) Applications

The Secretary shall establish an application process for grants under this section that–

(i) permits a single application for a grant and a loan under subchapter I, II, or this subchapter that is associated with such grant; and

(ii) provides a single decision to award such grant and such loan.

(F) Density determinations

When determining population density under this section, the Secretary shall prescribe a calculation method which–

(i) utilizes publicly available data; and

(ii) includes only those areas in which the applicant is able to meet the service requirements under this section, as determined by the Secretary.

(4) Fees

In the case of loan guarantees issued or modified under this section, the Secretary shall charge and collect from the lender fees in such amounts as to bring down the costs of subsidies for guaranteed loans, except that such fees shall not act as a bar to participation in the programs nor be inconsistent with current practices in the marketplace.

(d) Eligibility

(1) Eligible entities

(A) In general

To be eligible to obtain a grant, loan, or loan guarantee under this section, an entity shall–

(i) demonstrate the ability to furnish or improve service in order to meet the broadband buildout requirements established under subsection (e)(4) in all or part of an unserved or underserved rural area;

(ii) submit to the Secretary an application at such time, in such manner, and containing such information as the Secretary may require; and

(iii) agree to complete buildout of the broadband infrastructure described in the application by not later than 5 years after the initial date on which assistance under this section is made available.

(B) Limitation

An eligible entity that provides telecommunications or broadband service to at least 20 percent of the households in the United States may not receive an amount of funds under this section for a fiscal year in excess of 15 percent of the funds authorized and appropriated under subsection (j) for the fiscal year.

(2) Eligible projects

(A) In general

Except as provided in subparagraphs (B) and (C), assistance under this section may be used to carry out a project in a proposed service territory only if, as of the date on which the application of the eligible entity is submitted–

(i) not less than 50 percent (in the case of loans or loan guarantees provided in accordance with subsection (g)(1)(A)) of the households in the proposed service territory are unserved or have service levels below the minimum acceptable level of fixed broadband service, whether terrestrial or wireless, established under subsection (e); and

(ii) broadband service is not provided in any part of the proposed service territory by 3 or more incumbent service providers.

(B) Exception to percent requirement

Subparagraph (A)(i) shall not apply to the proposed service territory of a project if a loan or loan guarantee has been made under this section to the applicant to provide broadband service in the proposed service territory.

(C) Exception to incumbent service provider requirement

(i) In general

Except as provided in clause (ii), subparagraph (A)(ii) shall not apply to an incumbent service provider in the portion of a proposed service territory in which the provider is upgrading broadband service to meet the minimum acceptable level of broadband service established under subsection (e) for the existing territory of the incumbent service provider.

(ii) Exception

Clause (i) shall not apply if the applicant is eligible for funding under another subchapter of this chapter.

(3) Equity and market survey requirements

(A) In general

The Secretary may require an entity to provide a cost share in an amount not to exceed 10 percent of the amount of the grant, loan, or loan guarantee requested in the application of the entity, unless the Secretary determines that a higher percentage is required for financial feasibility.

(B) Market survey

(i) In general

The Secretary may require an entity that proposes to have a subscriber projection of more than 20 percent of the broadband service market in a rural area to submit to the Secretary a market survey.

(ii) Less than 20 percent

The Secretary may not require an entity that proposes to have a subscriber projection of less than 20 percent of the broadband service market in a rural area to submit to the Secretary a market survey.

(iii) Information

Information submitted under this subparagraph shall be–

(I) certified by the affected community, city, county, or designee; or

(II) demonstrated on–

(aa) the broadband map of the affected State if the map contains address-level data; or

(bb) the National Broadband Map if address-level data is unavailable.

(4) State and local governments and Indian tribes

Subject to paragraph (1), a State or local government (including any agency, subdivision, or instrumentality thereof (including consortia thereof)) and an Indian tribe shall be eligible for assistance under this section to provide broadband services to a rural area.

(5) Technical assistance and training

(A) In general

The Secretary may provide to eligible entities described in paragraph (1) that are applying for assistance under this section for a project described in subsection (c)(2)(A)(i) technical assistance and training–

(i) to prepare reports and surveys necessary to request grants, loans, and loan guarantees under this section for broadband deployment;

(ii) to improve management, including financial management, relating to the proposed broadband deployment;

(iii) to prepare applications for grants, loans, and loan guarantees under this section; or

(iv) to assist with other areas of need identified by the Secretary.

(B) Funding

Not less than 3 percent and not more than 5 percent of amounts appropriated to carry out this section for a fiscal year shall be used for technical assistance and training under this paragraph.

(e) Broadband service

(1) In general

Subject to paragraph (2), for purposes of this section, the minimum acceptable level of broadband service for a rural area shall be at least–

(A) a 25-Mbps downstream transmission capacity; and

(B) a 3-Mbps upstream transmission capacity.

(2) Adjustments

At least once every 2 years, the Secretary shall review, and may adjust through notice published in the Federal Register, the minimum acceptable level of broadband service established under paragraph (1) and broadband buildout requirements under paragraph (4) to ensure that high quality, cost-effective broadband service is provided to rural areas over time.

(3) Prohibition

The Secretary shall not establish requirements for bandwidth or speed that have the effect of precluding the use of evolving technologies appropriate for rural areas.

(4) Broadband buildout requirements

(A) In general

The term “broadband buildout requirement” means the level of internet service an applicant receiving assistance under this section must agree, at the time the application is finalized, to provide for the duration of any project-related agreement between the applicant and the Department.

(B) Broadband buildout requirements further defined

Subject to subparagraph (C), the Secretary shall establish broadband buildout requirements for projects with agreement lengths of–

(i) 5 to 10 years;

(ii) 11 to 15 years;

(iii) 16 to 20 years; and

(iv) more than 20 years.

(C) Requirements

In establishing the broadband buildout requirements under subparagraph (B), the Secretary shall–

(i) utilize the same metrics used to define the minimum acceptable level of broadband service under paragraph (1); 1

(ii) establish such requirements to reasonably ensure–

(I) the repayment of all loans and loan guarantees; and

(II) the financed network is technically capable of providing broadband service for the lifetime of any project-related agreement.

(D) Substitute service standards for unique service territories

If an applicant shows that it would be cost prohibitive to meet the broadband buildout requirements established under this paragraph for the entirety of a proposed service territory due to the unique characteristics of the proposed service territory, the Secretary and the applicant may agree to utilize substitute standards for any unserved portion of the project. Any substitute service standards should continue to consider the best technology available to meet the needs of the residents in the unserved area.

(f) Technological neutrality

For purposes of determining whether to provide assistance for a project under this section, the Secretary shall use criteria that are technologically neutral.

(g) Terms and conditions for loans and loan guarantees

(1) In general

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a loan or loan guarantee under this section shall–

(A) bear interest at an annual rate of, as determined by the Secretary–

(i) in the case of a direct loan, a rate equivalent to–

(I) the cost of borrowing to the Department of the Treasury for obligations of comparable maturity; or

(II) 4 percent; and


(ii) in the case of a guaranteed loan, the current applicable market rate for a loan of comparable maturity; and


(B) have a term of such length, not exceeding 35 years, as the borrower may request, if the Secretary determines that the loan is adequately secured.

(2) Recurring revenue

The Secretary shall consider the existing recurring revenues of the entity at the time of application in determining an adequate level of credit support.

(h) Adequacy of security

(1) In general

The Secretary shall ensure that the type and amount of, and method of security used to secure, any loan or loan guarantee under this section is commensurate to the risk involved with the loan or loan guarantee, particularly in any case in which the loan or loan guarantee is issued to a financially strong and stable entity, as determined by the Secretary.

(2) Determination of amount and method of security

In determining the amount of, and method of security used to secure, a loan or loan guarantee under this section, the Secretary shall consider reducing the security in a rural area that does not have broadband service.

(i) Payment assistance for certain loan and grant recipients

(1) Use of grant funds

The Secretary may use the funds appropriated for a grant under this subchapter for the cost (as defined by section 661a of title 2) of providing assistance under paragraph (2).

(2) Payment assistance

When providing a grant under this subchapter, the Secretary, at the sole discretion of the Secretary, may make–

(A) a subsidized loan, which shall bear a reduced interest rate at such a rate as the Secretary determines appropriate to meet the objectives of the program; or

(B) a payment assistance loan, which shall–

(i) require no interest and principal payments while the borrower is–

(I) in material compliance with the loan agreement; and

(II) meeting the milestones and objectives of the project agreed to under paragraph (3); and


(ii) require such nominal periodic payments as the Secretary determines to be appropriate.

(3) Agreement on milestones and objectives

With respect to payment assistance provided under paragraph (2), before entering into the agreement under which the payment assistance will be provided, the applicant and the Secretary shall agree to milestones and objectives of the project.

(4) Amendment of milestones and objectives

The Secretary and the applicant may jointly agree to amend the milestones and objectives agreed to under paragraph (3).

(5) Considerations

When deciding to utilize the payment assistance authority under paragraph (2) the Secretary shall consider whether or not the payment assistance will–

(A) improve the compliance of the grantee with any commitments made through the grant agreement;

(B) promote the completion of the broadband project;

(C) protect taxpayer resources; and

(D) support the integrity of the broadband programs administered by the Secretary.

(6) Limitations on payment assistance

The Secretary may not make a payment assistance loan under paragraph (2)(B) to an entity receiving a grant under this section that is also the recipient of a loan under subchapter I or II that is associated with such grant.

(j) Funding

(1) Authorization of appropriations

There is authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary to carry out this section $350,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2019 through 2023, to remain available until expended.

(2) Allocation of funds

(A) In general

From amounts made available for each fiscal year under this subsection, the Secretary shall–

(i) establish a national reserve for loans and loan guarantees to eligible entities in States under this section; and

(ii) allocate amounts in the reserve to each State for each fiscal year for loans and loan guarantees to eligible entities in the State.

(B) Amount

The amount of an allocation made to a State for a fiscal year under subparagraph (A) shall bear the same ratio to the amount of allocations made for all States for the fiscal year as–

(i) the number of communities with a population of 2,500 inhabitants or less in the State; bears to

(ii) the number of communities with a population of 2,500 inhabitants or less in all States.

(C) Unobligated amounts

Any amounts in the reserve established for a State for a fiscal year under subparagraph (B) that are not obligated by April 1 of the fiscal year shall be available to the Secretary to make loans and loan guarantees under this section to eligible entities in any State, as determined by the Secretary.

(k) Termination of authority

No grant, or loan, or loan guarantee may be made under this section after September 30, 2023.