[imgcontainer right] [img:texasfire.gif] [source]Jay Godwin/Austin American-Statesman[/source] ‘It looks like the newsreels of Baghdad when we were attacking,' Jeff Davis County Commissioner Larry Francell said, describing the fires around Fort Davis, Texas. [/imgcontainer]

Stimulating Broadband reports that the full $700 million in rural broadband loan authority that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was going to use this year was cut Friday as part of the budget deal.

The money was to be made available by the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service for loans to rural broadband providers. Not grants. The default rate for RUS is extremely low. The money would be paid back.

“The $700 million was never a hard dollar appropriation sitting in the RUS accounts,” Stimulating Broadband reports. “The $700 million was instead the upper limit of the ‘program level’ loan authority which USDA was attempting to issue to service providers in rural areas.”

The loan amounts were secured by $68 million appropriated by the 2008 Farm Bill, but this money was cut in earlier resolutions. “Said accurately, the denial of the $68 million in federal funds means that a figure over ten times that amount will not flow to credit worthy wired and wireless service providers for eventual repayment to the government,” the website reported. “The RUS broadband loan portfolio has a default rate of less than one percent.”

Stimulating Broadband reports:

“No source in government or industry we interviewed expressed hope that any portion of the broadband fund will be restored in the current 2011 federal fiscal year. Statements by President Obama and congressional leaders about the overall budget deal passed early Saturday morning clearly signal there will be no room for back filling of cut accounts this year.”

•Jeff Severns Guntzel of the MinnPost.com has a tremendous series working. He’s been driving around Minnesota, criss-crossing the state, stopping at small towns and talking to young people about what they see for themselves, their communities and the future. Guntzel writes:

[imgcontainer right] [img:Brooke+Devine.jpeg] [source]MinnPost.com[/source] Brooke Devine of Hibbing, Minnesota. [/imgcontainer]

Then there is the always-present question: To stay or to go? In Hibbing, a 19-year-old aspiring computer programmer who is enrolled in the community college was desperate to leave — to go somewhere with “new ideas.” Another 19-year-old, seated next to him and planning a transfer to North Dakota to study radiology, gets discombobulated in big cities.

The kids Guntzel talks to in his study (called Rural Minnesota: A Generation at the Crossroads) are that way. They’re ambivalent — to stay or to go is still a question.

In Hibbing, he talked with Brooke Devine, who’s 20 years old. She said most of her friends who left Hibbing are back home:

I would be content if I came back or if I didn’t. It’s a really nice place to raise kids. There’s not a lot of crime. I’m glad I grew up here. In high school it stunk because I was so fed up with having nothing to do. I thought I hated Hibbing – I couldn’t wait to graduate and get out of here. But then I graduated and I’m still here, and Hibbing’s not bad anymore. It was just high school that was lame.

There’s lots more good stuff, and a Facebook page here. We plan to keep up with Jeff’s ambitious and exciting project.

• Higher food prices “will tip more countries into turmoil in circumstances in which it will be extremely difficult for present and emerging regimes to meet the expectation of their people,” Monty Jones, a plant breeder in Africa and World Food Prize winner in 2005 told Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register.

Brasher hears from several former World Food Prize winners, who all tell him that the U.S. needs to help small farmers in these poor countries to increase their production. Brasher runs excerpts from interviews.

• Lots of disaster news today, from floods in North Dakota to fires in West Texas.

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