Semo.net Disputes USDA Rules Preventing Rural Broadband Grant
Below is a press release describing semo.net’s attempts to secure USDA broadband stimulus funding to make high-speed access available in our area; an area which the USDA has decided is not remote enough to qualify.
USDA TILTING AT WINDMILLS: LITTLE GUY EXPOSES USDA STIMULUS BLUNDER
Brian Becker owns a small Internet Service in Southeast Missouri started in 1995. Becker has documents to show that the USDA, responsible for doling out billions for Rural Broadband, has contradicted both itself and Congress. Most are skeptical at first, but a few minutes with him and you realize that $7.2B stimulus dollars hinge on one word.
Becker’s company, Poplar Bluff Internet (d.b.a semo.net), submitted a grant application to the USDA’s Broadband Initiative Program, a $7.2B portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In mid-January, Becker received notice from the USDA that his grant proposal was rejected because his proposed service area was too close to Paragould, Arkansas.
Becker realized why he and the USDA disagreed on Paragould: the USDA was incorrectly applying its own definition of Rural Area.
The rules under which applicants must submit grant requests represents a departure from past USDA definitions, and this departure completely changes the definitions of Rural and Non-Rural.
At the heart of the difference: use of the word OR rather than AND.
A good example as to the significance of this problem can be found 65 miles south of Paragould where the USDA designates Marion, Arkansas, as a Rural Area. Marion is actually part of the greater Memphis metropolitan area and only 8 miles from downtown Memphis. Becker chided, “Eight miles from Paragould are cattle and crops, not skyscrapers and minor league baseball stadiums.”
Many communities appear to have been cut out of the process unfairly because they were told they didn’t qualify for broadband stimulus funds and one can only assume that even more scrutiny will befall the funded USDA areas now.
On February 15th, Becker sent a formal letter to Administrator Adelstein of the USDA and Secretary Vilsack. The letter questioned the definition of Rural Area and the USDA’s interpretation of Paragould as a Non-Rural Area.
The USDA’s response (in Becker’s words): We’re the experts, we’re right. However, in the letter dated February 26th, Administrator Adelstein went so far as to contradict the 2008 Farm Bill definition of Rural Area.
Becker commented, “I couldn’t believe it when I read what the Administrator wrote, I actually did a double-take and thought ‘Are you kidding me?’”
Becker not only appears to have a legitimate argument, his proposal is unique as well. Many think his idea could change how wireless Internet services are rolled-out going forward. His idea caught the eye of the Missouri’s Governor’s office who pledged $195,000 toward the $1.5m grant proposal.
Becker’s 800 square mile service area was to be serviced by thirty-one 150’ towers. Becker engineered each of the towers to be capped with a 2.7KW SkyStream consumer-grade, wind-turbine tied to the smart grid. Becker also proposed a solar-powered battery system to power the wireless equipment and dubbed the project “200% Green” since each tower would generate more power than it used.
Becker offers the landowner all the power from the $35,000 windmill system plus free Internet service in exchange for a 20-year easement on the land. Becker explained, “Often times, putting a 150 foot tower in someone’s back yard is not only expensive but a hard sell. Mention a free windmill and everybody wants one.”
An added bonus of building windmills rather than wireless towers is a 30% IRS tax credit on all green technology expenditures.
Becker laughed, “I save at least over $20,000 on the land-lease and pick up a $10,500 tax credit by adding a $7000 windmill to my tower. Seems like a win- win situation to me!”
Becker came up with the idea in January 2009, but the stimulus funding limbo has kept him from moving forward with his idea.
When asked what will happen now that the USDA has refused his proposal, Becker smiled with the look of one who’s been knocked down but not out. “I guess I’ll start looking for the money another way.”
I also would consider a tower: at intersection of Hwy 60(bypass) and Hwy 67 north, also at Broseley
Keep up the good fight Brian! I have been waiting for some sort of broadband where I live in Wayne county for years now. I am thankful that I do have dial up access at least, even though at the best its only 24bps. That alone makes things like youtube and online gaming impossible or next too at least. I hope one day we do have some sort of broadband access in our area and I applaud your efforts Sir.
I also would gladly sign a petition. We live just 6 miles from the city limits of Poplar Bluff and all we get is dial-up or satellite! I don’t understand why here in the USA we are further behind in technology than some other countries. Another thing that makes me angry is that AT&T will not upgrade out here, but they will gladly sell us home and wireless services! Thank you Brian for trying to help us, and I’m looking forward to those towers going up!
I agree with all here. We are left out in the cold due to distance from “the city”. We also would be thrilled to have a “green” tower on our property. Seems that this needs to be taken to the next level of public outcry…
Keep up the good work and don’t let the USDA win. I would gladly sign a petition. We deserve the right to move into the 21st century also. I think it is discrimination to penalize us who like to live in rural areas.
I understand Brian’s frustration, he’s talking to the government who sets their own fineprint in their set of rules………..we live in rural Poplar Bluff and use Hughesnet satellite internet. It is much better than dial-up of course, but not as fast as DSL, we pay $70 monthly for 750K. more espensive than DSL too……… Hughesnet does have its drawbacks, one of the worst being what we call Hughesnet “rolling road-block”. We cannot download more than one Utube video or be on Itunes more than 20 minutes, if we go past that time, we get shut down to dial-up speed for 24 hours. We have three computers in our home and 5 people using them, we get shut down all the time. Hughesnet’s allowed “download time” is between 2 am-3 am and you will not be shut down.
I thank Brian for trying to make rural broadband better for us, and encourage him to continue in his efforts. I also think the petition would help.
nothing on the same level–no even close, much more minor–but this business of assigning us certain areas, i.e. rural/urban, or in my case –shopping area. We recently switched to satellite TV and although they say you get local channels–well, yes you do–Cape, but no St. Louis, mostly Paducah–We were told that we are not in the St. Louis shopping area (St. Louis = 1;45 hour drive from my house to South County Shopping center or to Gravois Bluffs on mostly 4-lane highway) but are in the Paducah shopping area (Paducah = 3:30 to 4:00 hour drive over mostly narrow 2-lane highway to the Paducah mall). We’ve written, We’ve called; We’ve sent maps–but their demographics show us in the Paducah area–no matter what! Who determines these things, and how do they determine it?
I am so sorry for your plight, Brian. We consider ourselves lucky that we have Internet and DSL where we live and are so grateful to you and your company. I have friends who live in areas where they cannot get Internet and know how frustrated they are. I like the petition idea.
i wish mr. becker would start a petition for people to sign and send to our governor. also, if we could get everyone to call the gov. office and i mean keep calling daily, maybe that would help. i live in western ripley co. and am willing to have a tower, or whatever it takes, to get internet srvc. out here. my neighbor across the street qualifies for broadband for the phone co. but not myself. please mr. becker, get us a phone no. or petition to get the gov. or whomever, to help us out.
I was both amazed and disappointed in the decision by the USDA. They have every right to reject the grant application if it was not in proper form, technically flawed or just plain unnecessary, but to say no because we are not “rural” is unbelievable. Keep up the good work SEMO, there are are a lot of people in Butler county that want and need your services.
Wondering why Missouri isn’t on the list?
I couldn’t agree more with Keith’s remarks above, or Brian’s comment about the USDA “we’re the experts, we’re right.” (Sounds a little like “we won” to quote a certain person.) I would be glad to have the windmill at Gatewood and you can’t get more rural than that. We get neither broadband nor cell phone reception at home. Here in America we “rural folks” are the forgotten, living as if we were in a third world country. Early on last year when I read a newspaper article about broadband stimulus funding (and having heard Obama’s campaign promise), I wrote Mr. Adelstein urging him not to forget us but never received the courtesy of a response. Who are we? Just the tax-paying Americans for whom they could care less. Keep at it Brian, we admire your efforts and determination!!
I for one can believe you received an answer like that. Look at our Government today they are all experts and knows what is right. If you aren’t helping their agenda then you are either misinformed or lacking in education. It seems today that if you aren’t serving some special interest agenda what ever service or idea you may have today it is falling on the DEAF ears of the experts. Many who are educated in the finest schools we have to offer but don’t have common sense to make it on their own so they find the backing of special interest to get them elected or appointed to an office.
Good luck in your quest Mr. Small Businessman. The helping hand you will receive from the Government will be full of red tape and bureaucracy. Be glad the Governor of Missouri seen medit in your idea. Oh my but wait he must not be an expert or know what he is doing since he is an elected official.
Just make sure you have a few extra bucks laying around once you get started. OSHA, EPA, DOL and DNR will all be around I am sure and you may need a few thousands just because you didn’t have a piece of paper filled out right. Sad but True.
i own my land and would let you put a tower on my property north of Wappapello mo.