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Adelstein: Rural Broadband Deployment Is Key Priority

Former FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said rural broadband deployment would be key to his new job as administrator of the Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Service.

That came in a Senate Agriculture Committee nomination hearing Tuesday.

"I believe one of our key national priorities should be to aggressively promote the expansion of broadband deployment and adoption," he told the committee in testimony. "Some have argued that the reason we’ve fallen so far in the international rankings is that we are more rural than those ahead of us. If that is correct," he said, "we must cite it not as a despairing excuse but as a clarion call to re-double our efforts to promote rural broadband."

RUS has $2.5 billion in broadband stimulus money to give out, including loans that it says will translate to billions more in investment.

Adelstein's confirmation would move him only two blocks or so from his former digs at the FCC and will keep him in close contact with both the commission and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration as they combine to deliver broadband to unserved and underserved areas, per the instructions of Congress and the Obama administration.

RUS must spend its money on rural areas and will concentrate on unserved communities.

The American Cable Association praised Adelstein for his hearing pledge of a streamlined and open loan process. ACA saw that as a boon to the smaller cable operators it represents, ones that they won't need to hire "an army of Washington, D.C. consultants" to obtain the grants and loans.

ACA members could have also headed over to a familiar venue Tuesday, the National Harbor, home of its 2009 convention, where the government was holding a day-long seminar on how to apply for the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money.

"ACA hopes that the RUS will award these important grants based on the merits. If that standard is followed, ACA is confident that many small and mid-sized cable operators will seek and receive their fair share of broadband stimulus funding," said ACA President Matthew Polka. "Based on Mr. Adelstein's remarks, we are hopeful that BIP grants and loans will be awarded by RUS on a technology-neutral basis, and that applicants who are cable operators that serve rural America in a similar manner to rural local exchange carriers in these areas will be treated fairly under the new program."

The first of three rounds of grant/loan applications were put out for bid last week.