U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary Xochitl Torres Small warned changing the definition of what counts as “rural” broadband could negatively impact programs like the agency’s ReConnect initiative, resulting in a greater disparity between available funding and requests than already exists today.
The comments from Torres Small came during a Congressional hearing on Thursday in response to a call from Congressman Jimmy Panetta for the federal government to adopt a single definition of the word. He noted the federal government currently has more than a dozen different definitions for what counts as rural, and pressed for unification around a single, more inclusive standard.
“The complexity of those definitions can lead to wasted time for our local leaders who are seeking…funds for these types of programs,” Panetta said, noting eligibility for ReConnect and other funding sources is based on whether or not an area is considered rural.
One issue is that rural, suburban and urban are all subjective and comparative. And populations change. The hope often is that broadband will encourage population and commercial growth for an area.