More areas will be eligible for stimulus grants, as the RUS addresses a complaint made by several people including the influential Rick Boucher (D-VA).
The definition of broadband is 768 / 200 Kbps but there is also a definition of high speed, which is 5 Mbps symmetrical. Any area without high speed service can be underserved, which opens up a large portion of the country to grants. “RUS has determined that rural areas without service at 5 Mbps (upstream and downstream combined) lack high speed broadband service sufficient to facilitate rural economic development as required by the Recovery Act,” the notice said.
Furthermore, the language that Boucher complained about, which said that underserved areas had to be a certain number of miles from an urban area, is also not present.
Instead, the RUS now defines a rural area as “any area, as confirmed by the latest decennial census of the Bureau of the Census, which is not located within: (1) a city, town, or incorporated area that has a population of greater than 20,000 inhabitants; or (2) an urbanized area contiguous and adjacent to a city or town that has a population of greater than 50,000 inhabitants. For purposes of the definition of rural area, an urbanized area means a densely populated territory as defined in the latest decennial census of the Bureau of the Census.”
Applicants will be relieved to hear that they can define their coverage area by something other than census blocks, such as township boundaries and counties. I think this is a great rule because many applicants were working with one or more counties in determining their coverage area.
Applicants will be relieved to hear that they only need one professional engineer (PE) certification even if their application covers multiple states (section V C 1 j of the preliminary notice).
Applicants can identify confidential information on their application. It will be redacted on the public website.
Applicants should note that applications will be weighted according to the unemployment rate of the state the application covers. Applications covering multiple states will use a weighted average of the unemployment rates.
Recent unemployment data can be found at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (but I do not know what data the RUS will use).
According to the data I found, the U.S. average is 10 percent. Michigan has the highest overall (14.7). California and Nevada have an unemployment rate of 12.3 percent (and Oregon has 11.1 percent unemployment). South Carolina is at 12.3 percent and Rhode Island is at 12.7 percent. Most of the other states are close to 10 percent, but the rural states have very low unemployment. Nebraska has the lowest (4.5 percent), and Vermot (5.0) and South Dakota (6.4) are also low.
Applications will also take into account the median household income of the area covered. This is very important, and median income varies widely between counties within a state.