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Rule

Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant Program

Document Details

Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Rural Utilities Service, USDA.

ACTION:

Direct final rule.

SUMMARY:

The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) is amending its regulations for the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Loan and Grant Program. This direct final rule addresses the amendments affecting the grant program. These amendments will clarify eligibility; change the grant minimum matching contribution; clarify that only loan funds will be used to finance transmission facilities; modify financial information requirements; adjust the leveraging of resources scoring criterion; revise financial information to be submitted; and make other minor changes and corrections.

DATES:

This rule will become effective March 11, 2002, unless we receive written adverse comments or a written notice of intent to submit adverse comments on or before February 22, 2002. If we receive such comments or notice, we will publish a timely document in the Federal Register withdrawing the rule. Comments received will be considered under the proposed rule published in this edition of the Federal Register in the proposed rule section. A second public comment period will not be held.

Written comments must be received by RUS via facsimile transmission or carry a postmark or equivalent no later than February 22, 2002.

ADDRESSES:

Submit adverse comments or notice of intent to submit adverse comments to Roberta D. Purcell, Assistant Administrator, Telecommunications Program, Rural Utilities Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Ave., SW., STOP 1590, Room 4056, South Building, Washington, DC 20250-1590 or via facsimile transmission to (202) 720-0810. RUS requests a signed original and three copies of all comments (7 CFR 1700.4). All comments received will be made available for public inspection at room 4056, South Building, Washington, DC, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. (7 CFR part 1.27(b)).

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Marilyn J. Morgan, Chief, DLT Branch, Advanced Services Division, Rural Utilities Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Ave., SW., STOP 1550, Washington, DC 20250-1550. Telephone: 202-720-0413; e-mail at mmorgan@rus.usda.gov; or, Fax: 202-720-1051.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Executive Order 12866

This rule has been determined to be not significant for the purposes of Executive Order 12866 and, therefore, has not been reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Executive Order 12372

This program is subject to the provisions of Executive Order 12372, Intergovernmental Review of Federal Programs, which requires intergovernmental consultation with State and local officials.

Executive Order 12988

This rule has been reviewed under Executive Order 12988, Civil Justice Reform. RUS has determined that this rule meets the applicable standards provided in section 3 of the Executive Order. In addition, all State and local laws and regulations that are in conflict with this rule will be preempted; no retroactive effect will be given to this rule; and, in accordance with section 212(e) of the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 (7 U.S.C. 6912(e)) administrative appeal procedures, if any are required, must be exhausted before an action against the Department or its agencies may be initiated.

Regulatory Flexibility Act Certification

The Administrator of RUS has determined that this rule will not have a significant economic adverse impact on a substantial number of small entities, as defined in the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601). The RUS DLT loan and grant program provides recipients with grants and loans at interest rates and on terms that are more favorable than those generally available from the private sector. Recipients, as a result of obtaining federal financing, receive economic benefits that exceed any direct cost associated with complying with the RUS regulations and requirements.

National Environmental Policy Act Certification

The Administrator of RUS has determined that this rule will not significantly affect the quality of the human environment as defined by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.). Therefore, this action does not require an environmental impact statement or assessment.

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance

The program described by this rule is listed in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance programs under No. 10.855 Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loans and Grants. This catalog is available on a subscription basis from the Superintendent of Documents, the United States Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402-9325, telephone number (202) 512-1800.

Information Collection and Recordkeeping Requirements

The reporting and recordkeeping requirements contained in this rule have been approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under OMB Control Number 0572-0096, pursuant to the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C chapter 35).

Unfunded Mandates

This rule contains no Federal mandates (under the regulatory provisions of title II of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act) for State, local, and tribal governments or the private sector. Thus, this rule is not subject to the requirements of sections 202 and 205 of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act. Start Printed Page 3040

Background

RUS is amending 7 CFR 1703, subparts D, E, F and G of its regulations for the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Loan and Grant Program. The current regulations implement the provision of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (1996 Act) (7 U.S.C. 950aaa et seq.) to encourage and improve telemedicine services and distance learning services in rural areas.

Subpart D is being amended to clarify eligibility for various types of financial assistance. Section 1703.103 is revised to clarify eligibility criterion for applicants in conformance with paragraphs (c)(1) and (2) of section 2333 of the 1996 Act (7 U.S.C. 950aaa-a(1) and (2). Sections 1703.131(h) and 1703.141(h) are revised to clarify that transmission facilities may be financed only with a loan and in connection with a distance learning or telemedicine project. Funding of transmission facilities is further clarified under section 1703.101. Additionally the word “eligible” was removed from the first sentence of the consortium definition and the definition of “eligible organization” was deleted under the definition section. Eligibility criteria are set forth in § 1703.103.

This rule also amends the method of calculation for the minimum matching contribution of a grant in subpart E. This rule also readjusts the award of points for the leveraging of resources scoring criterion.

Subpart E clarifies the circumstances under which the grant program will fund telecommunications facilities.

This rule makes an additional modification to subpart E regarding required financial information. This will streamline the application process for applicants.

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List of Subjects in Part 1703

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For the reasons set forth in the preamble, RUS amends 7 CFR chapter XVII as follows:

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PART 1703—RURAL DEVELOPMENT

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1. The authority citation for this part continues to read as follows:

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Authority: 7 U.S.C. 950aaa et seq.

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Subpart D—Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant Program—General

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2. Amend § 1703.102 by removing the definition of “Eligible organization” and revising the definitions of “Consortium” and “Rural Community Facilities” to read as follows:

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Definitions.
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Consortium means a combination or group of entities formed to undertake the purposes for which the distance learning and telemedicine financial assistance is provided. At least one of the entities in a consortium must meet the requirements of § 1703.103.

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Rural community facility means a facility such as a school, library, learning center, training facility, hospital, or medical facility that provides educational or health care benefits primarily to residents of rural areas.

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3. Revise § 1703.103 to read as follows:

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Applicant eligibility and allocation of funds.

(a) To be eligible to receive a grant, loan and grant combination, or loan under this subpart:

(1) The applicant must be legally organized as an incorporated organization or partnership, an Indian tribe or tribal organization, as defined in 25 U.S.C. 450b (b) and (c), a state or local unit of government, a consortium, as defined in § 1703.102, or other legal entity, including a private corporation organized on a for profit or not-for profit basis. Each applicant must provide written evidence of its legal capacity to contract with RUS to obtain the grant, loan and grant combination, or the loan, and comply with all applicable requirements. If a consortium lacks the legal capacity to contract, each individual entity must contract with RUS in its own behalf.

(2) The applicant proposes to utilize the financing to:

(i) Operate a rural community facility; or

(ii) Deliver distance learning or telemedicine services to entities that operate a rural community facility or to residents of rural areas at rates calculated to ensure that the benefit of the financial assistance is passed through to such entities or to residents of rural areas.

(b) Electric or telecommunications borrowers are not eligible for grants.

Subpart E—Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program

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4. Remove and reserve § 1703.120

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5. Amend § 1703.121 by revising the introductory text to read as follows:

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Approved purposes for grants.

For distance learning and telemedicine projects, grants shall finance only the costs for approved purposes. Grants shall be expended only for the costs associated with the initial capital assets associated with the project. The following are approved grant purposes:

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6. Amend § 1703.122 by revising paragraph (a) and adding paragraph (e) to read as follows:

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Matching contributions.

(a) The grant applicant's minimum matching contribution must equal 15 percent of the grant amount requested and shall be used for approved purposes for grants listed in § 1703.121. Matching contributions generally must be in the form of cash. However, in-kind contributions solely for the purposes listed in § 1703.121 may be substituted for cash.

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(e) Any financial assistance from Federal sources will not be considered as matching contributions under this subpart unless there is a Federal statutory exception specifically authorizing the Federal financial assistance to be considered as a matching contribution.

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7. Amend § 1703.123 by revising paragraph (a)(1) to read as follows:

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Nonapproved purposes for grants.

(a) * * *

(1) To cover the costs of acquiring, installing or constructing telecommunications transmission facilities;

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8. Amend § 1703.125 by removing the words “purchases or leases of” from the first sentence of (h)(2) and by revising paragraph (e) to read as follows:

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Completed application.
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(e) Financial information and sustainability. The applicant must provide a narrative description demonstrating: feasibility of the project, including having sufficient resources and expertise necessary to undertake and complete the project; and, how the project will be sustained following completion of the project.

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9. Amend § 1703.126 by revising paragraph (a)(4) to read as follows:

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Criteria for scoring grant applications.

(a) * * *

(4) The ability of the applicant to leverage financial resources—Up to 35 points. This criterion will be used to evaluate the ability of the applicant to provide a matching contribution for the project using other non-Federal financial assistance. Documentation submitted in support of the application should reflect any additional financial support for the project from non-Federal sources above the applicant's minimum matching contribution of 15 percent as required by § 1703.122. The applicant must include evidence, from authorized representatives of the sources, of a commitment that the funds are available and will be used for the project. The applicant will receive points as follows:

(i) Matching contribution for approved purposes greater than 15 percent, but less than or equal to 30 percent of the grant requested—0 points.

(ii) Matching contribution for approved purposes greater than 30 percent, but less than or equal to 50 percent of the grant requested—15 points.

(iii) Matching contribution for approved purposes greater than 50 percent, but less than or equal to 75 percent of the grant requested—25 points.

(iv) Matching contribution for approved purposes greater than 75 percent, but less than or equal to 100 percent of the grant requested—30 points.

(v) Matching contribution for a grant for approved purposes greater than 100 percent of the grant requested—35 points.

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Dated: December 28, 2001.

Roberta D. Purcell,

Acting Administrator, Rural Utilities Service.

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[FR Doc. 02-1537 Filed 1-22-02; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3410-15-P