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Title 7Subtitle BChapter XVIIPart 1703 → Subpart D

Title 7: Agriculture

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

§1703.100   Purpose.
§1703.101   Policy.
§1703.102   Definitions.
§1703.103   Applicant eligibility and allocation of funds.
§1703.104   [Reserved]
§1703.105   Processing of selected applications.
§1703.106   Disbursement of loans and grants.
§1703.107   Reporting and oversight requirements.
§1703.108   Audit requirements.
§1703.109   Grant and loan administration.
§1703.110   Changes in project objectives or scope.
§1703.111   Grant and loan termination.
§1703.112   Expedited telecommunications loans
§§1703.113-1703.119   [Reserved]

Source: 64 FR 14357, Mar. 25, 1999, unless otherwise noted.

§1703.100   Purpose.

The purpose of the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Loan and Grant Program is to encourage and improve telemedicine services and distance learning services in rural areas through the use of telecommunications, computer networks, and related advanced technologies by students, teachers, medical professionals, and rural residents. This subpart describes the general policies for administering the DLT program. Subpart E contains the policies and procedures related to grants; subpart F contains the policies and procedures related to a combination loan and grant; and subpart G contains the policies and procedures related to loans.

§1703.101   Policy.

(a) The transmission of information is vital to the economic development, education, and health of rural Americans. To further this objective, RUS will provide financial assistance to distance learning and telemedicine projects that will improve the access of people residing in rural areas to educational, learning, training, and health care services.

(b) In providing financial assistance, RUS will give priority to rural areas that it believes have the greatest need for distance learning and telemedicine services. RUS believes that generally the need is greatest in areas that are economically challenged, costly to serve, and experiencing outward migration. This program is consistent with the provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that designate telecommunications service discounts for schools, libraries, and rural health care centers. RUS will take into consideration the community's involvement in the proposed project and the applicant's ability to leverage grant funds.

(c) In administering this subpart, RUS will not favor or mandate the use of one particular technology over another.

(d) Rural institutions are encouraged to cooperate with each other, with applicants, and with end-users to promote the program being implemented under this subpart.

(e) RUS staff will make diligent efforts to inform potential applicants in rural areas of the programs being implemented under this subpart.

(f) The Administrator will provide only loans under this subpart to any entity that has received a telecommunications or electric loan under the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. Telecommunications and Electric borrowers are encouraged to seek a loan under this subpart to bolster educational and health care opportunities in the rural communities they serve. A borrower receiving a loan shall:

(1) Make the loan available to entities that qualify as distance learning or telemedicine projects satisfying the requirements of this subpart, under any terms it so chooses as long as the terms are no more stringent than the terms under which it received the financial assistance.

(2) Use the loan to acquire, install, improve, or extend a distance learning or telemedicine system referred to in this subpart.

(g) The Administrator will allocate funds that are appropriated each fiscal year for the subparts E, F, and G, of this part respectively. Not more than 30 days before the end of the fiscal year, the Administrator may transfer any funds not committed to grants in the combination loan and grant program to the grant program.

(h) Financial assistance may be provided for end user sites. Financial assistance may also be provided for hubs located in rural or non-rural areas if they are necessary to provide distance learning or telemedicine services to rural residents at end user sites.

(i) The Administrator will publish, at the end of each fiscal year, a notice in the Federal Register of all applications receiving financial assistance under this subpart. Subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, (5 U.S.C. 552), applications will be available for public inspection at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC, 20250.

§1703.102   Definitions.

1996 Act means the Federal Agriculture Improvement Act of 1996.

Act means the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 (7 U.S.C. 901 et seq.).

Administrator means the Administrator of the Rural Utilities Service, or designee or successor.

Applicant means an eligible organization that applies for financial assistance under this subpart.

Approved purposes means project purposes for which grant, loan, or combination loan and grant financial assistance may be expended.

Champion community means any community that submitted a valid application to become a USDA Empowerment Zone/Enterprise Community (EZ/EC) area, that met the requirements to be designated an EZ/EC area, but not chosen because their score was not high enough to be selected.

Combination loan and grant means a grant in combination with a loan made under the DLT program.

Completed application means an application that includes all those items specified in §§1703.125, 1703.134, and 1703.144 in form and substance satisfactory to the Administrator.

Computer networks mean computer hardware and software, terminals, signal conversion equipment including both modulators and demodulators, or related devices, used to communicate with other computers to process and exchange data through a telecommunication network in which signals are generated, modified, or prepared for transmission, or received, via telecommunications terminal equipment and telecommunications transmission facilities.

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.

Construct means to acquire, construct, extend, improve, or install a facility or system.

Data terminal equipment means equipment that converts user information into data signals for transmission, or reconverts the received data signals into user information, and is normally found on the terminal of a circuit and on the premises of the end user.

Distance learning means a telecommunications link to an end user through the use of eligible equipment to:

(1) Provide educational programs, instruction, or information originating in one area, whether rural or not, to students and teachers who are located in rural areas; or

(2) Connect teachers and students, located in one rural area with teachers and students that are located in a different rural area.

DLT borrower means an entity that has an outstanding loan under the provisions of the DLT program.

DLT program means the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant Program administered by RUS.

Economic useful life as applied to equipment and facilities financed under the DLT program means the number of years resulting from dividing 100 percent by the depreciation rate (expressed as a percent) based on Internal Revenue Service depreciation rules or recognized telecommunications industry guidelines.

Eligible equipment means computer hardware and software, audio or video equipment, computer network components, telecommunications terminal equipment, data terminal equipment, inside wiring, interactive video equipment, or other facilities that would further telemedicine services or distance learning services.

Eligible facilities means land, buildings, or building construction needed to carry out an eligible distance learning or telemedicine project for loan financial assistance only.

Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Community (EZ/EC) means any community whose designation as such by USDA pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 1391 et seq., is in effect at the time RUS agrees to provide financial assistance.

End user is one or more of the following:

(1) Rural elementary, secondary schools, and other educational institutions, such as institutions of higher education, vocational and adult training and education centers, libraries, and teacher training centers, and students, teachers and instructors using such rural educational facilities, that participate in a rural distance learning telecommunications program through a project funded under this subpart;

(2) Rural hospitals, primary care centers or facilities, such as medical centers, nursing homes, and clinics, and physicians and staff using such rural medical facilities, that participate in a rural telemedicine program through a project funded under this subpart; and

(3) Other rural community facilities, institutions, or entities that receive distance learning or telemedicine services.

End user site means a facility that is part of a network or telecommunications system that is utilized by end users.

Financial assistance means a grant, combination loan and grant, or loan.

GFR means RUS telecommunications program General Field Representative.

Grant documents means the grant agreement, including any amendments and supplements thereto, between RUS and the grantee.

Grantee means a recipient of a grant from RUS to carry out the purposes of the DLT program.

Guarantee means a guarantee for a loan provided by a RUS borrower or other qualified third party.

Hub means a facility that is part of a network or telecommunications system that provides educational or medical services to end user sites.

Instructional programming means educational material, including computer software, which would be used for educational purposes in connection with eligible equipment but does not include salaries, benefits, and overhead of medical or educational personnel.

Interactive equipment means equipment used to produce and prepare for transmission audio and visual signals from at least two distant locations so that individuals at such locations can orally and visually communicate with each other. Such equipment includes monitors, other display devices, cameras or other recording devices, audio pickup devices, and other related equipment.

Loan means a loan made under the DLT program bearing interest at a rate equal to the then current cost-of-money to the government.

Loan documents mean the loan agreement, note, and security instrument, including any amendments and supplements thereto, between RUS and the DLT borrower.

Local exchange carrier means a commercial, cooperative or mutual-type association, or public body that is engaged in the provision of telephone exchange service or exchange access.

Matching contribution means the applicant's contribution for approved purposes.

National school lunch program (NSLP) means the federally assisted meal program established under the National School Lunch Act of 1946 (42 U.S.C. 1751).

Project means approved purposes for which financial assistance has been provided.

Project service area means the area in which at least 90 percent of the persons to be served by the project are likely to reside.

Recipient means a grantee, borrower, or both of a DLT program grant, loan or combination loan and grant.

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.

RUS means the Rural Utilities Service, an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, successor to the Rural Electrification Administration.

Secretary means the Secretary of Agriculture.

Technical assistance means:

(1) Assistance in learning to manage, operate, or use equipment or systems; and

(2) Studies, analyses, designs, reports, manuals, guides, literature, or other forms of creating, acquiring, or disseminating information.

Telecommunications carrier means any provider of telecommunications services.

Telecommunications or electric borrower means an entity that has outstanding RUS or Rural Telephone Bank electric or telecommunications loans or loan guarantees under the provisions of the Act.

Telecommunications systems plan means the plan submitted by an applicant in accordance with §1703.125 for grants, §1703.134 for a combination loan and grant, or §1703.144 for loans.

Telecommunications terminal equipment means the assembly of telecommunications equipment at the end of a circuit or path of a signal, including but not limited to facilities that receive or transmit over the air broadcast, satellite, and microwave, normally located on the premises of the end user, that interfaces with telecommunications transmission facilities, and that is used to modify, convert, encode, or otherwise prepare signals to be transmitted via such telecommunications facilities, or that is used to modify, reconvert, or carry signals received from such facilities, the purpose of which is to accomplish the goal for which the circuit or signal was established.

Telecommunications transmission facilities means facilities that transmit, receive, or carry voice, video, or data between the telecommunications terminal equipment at each end of the telecommunications circuit or path. Such facilities include microwave antennae, relay stations and towers, other telecommunications antennae, fiber-optic cables and repeaters, coaxial cables, communication satellite ground station complexes, copper cable electronic equipment associated with telecommunications transmissions, and similar items.

Telemedicine means a telecommunications link to an end user through the use of eligible equipment which electronically links medical professionals at separate sites in order to exchange health care information in audio, video, graphic, or other format for the purpose of providing improved health care services primarily to residents of rural areas.

[64 FR 14357, Mar. 25, 1999, as amended at 67 FR 3040, Mar. 11, 2002]

§1703.103   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.

[64 FR 14357, Mar. 25, 1999, as amended at 67 FR 3040, Mar. 11, 2002]

§1703.104   [Reserved]

§1703.105   Processing of selected applications.

(a) During the period between the submission of an application and the execution of documents, the applicant must inform RUS if the project is no longer viable or the applicant no longer is requesting financial assistance for the project. When the applicant so informs RUS, the selection will be rescinded or the application withdrawn and written notice to that effect sent to the applicant.

(b) If an application has been selected and the scope of the project changes substantially, the applicant may be required to submit a new application to RUS for review and consideration depending on the degree of change. A new application will be subject to review in accordance with this subpart. The financial assistance may not be transferred by the applicant for use for another project.

(c) If State or local governments raise objections to a proposed project under the intergovernmental review process that are not resolved within 90 days of the Administrator's selection of the application, the Administrator will rescind the selection and written notice to that effect will be sent to the applicant. The Administrator, in his sole discretion may extend the 90 day period if it appears resolution is imminent.

(d) RUS may request additional information to complete the appropriate documents covering financial assistance.

(e) Financial assistance documents. (1) The documents will include a grant agreement for grants; loan documents, including third party guarantees, notes and security instruments for loans; or any other legal documents the Administrator deems appropriate, including suggested forms of certifications and legal opinions.

(2) The grant agreement and the loan documents will include, among other things, conditions on the release or advance of funds and include at a minimum, a project description, approved purposes, the maximum amount of the financial assistance, supplemental funds required for the project, and certain agreements or commitments the applicant may have proposed in its application. In addition, the loan documents may contain covenants and conditions the Administrator deems necessary or desirable to provide additional assurance that loans will be repaid and the purposes of the loan will be accomplished.

(3) The recipient of a loan will be required to execute a security instrument in form and substance satisfactory to RUS and must, before receiving any advance of loan funds, provide security that is adequate, in the opinion of RUS, to assure repayment, within the time agreed, of all loans to the borrower under the DLT program. This assurance will generally be provided by a first lien upon all facilities and equipment financed by the loan. RUS may require additional security as it deems necessary.

(4) Adequate security may also be provided by third-party guarantees, letters of credit, pledges of revenue, or other forms of security satisfactory to RUS.

(5) The security instrument and other loan documents required by RUS in connection with a loan under the DLT program shall contain such pledges, covenants, and other provisions as may, in the opinion of RUS, be required to secure repayment of the loan.

(6) If the project does not constitute a complete operating system, the DLT recipient shall provide evidence, in form and substance satisfactory to RUS, demonstrating that the recipient has sufficient contractual, financing, or other arrangements to assure that the project will provide adequate and efficient service.

(f) Prior to the execution of a grant and loan document, RUS reserves the right to require any changes in the project or legal documents covering the project to protect the integrity of the DLT program and the interests of the government.

(g) If the applicant fails to submit, within 120 calendar days from the date of RUS' selection of an application, all of the information that RUS determines to be necessary to prepare legal documents and satisfy other requirements of this subpart, RUS may rescind the selection of the application.

[64 FR 14357, Mar. 25, 1999; 64 FR 25422, May 12, 1999]

§1703.106   Disbursement of loans and grants.

(a) For financial assistance of $100,000 or greater, prior to the disbursement of a grant and a loan, the recipient, if it is not a unit of government, will provide evidence of fidelity bond coverage as required by 2 CFR part 200, which is adopted by USDA through 2 CFR part 400.

(b) Grants and loans will be disbursed to recipients on a reimbursement basis, or with unpaid invoices for the eligible purposes contained in this subpart, by the following process:

(1) An SF 270, “Request for Advance or Reimbursement,” will be completed by the recipient and submitted to RUS not more frequently than once a month;

(2) RUS will review the SF 270 for accuracy when received and will schedule payment if the form is satisfactory. Payment will ordinarily be made within 30 days; and

(3) For financial assistance approved during and subsequent to FY 1999, funds will be advanced in accordance with 7 CFR 1744.69.

(c) The recipient's share in the cost of the project must be disbursed in advance of the loan and grant, or if the recipient agrees, on a pro rata distribution basis with financial assistance during the disbursement period. Recipients will not be permitted to provide their contributions at the end of the project.

(d) A combination loan and grant will be disbursed on a pro rata basis based on the respective amounts of financial assistance provided.

[64 FR 14357, Mar. 25, 1999, as amended at 79 FR 76001, Dec. 19, 2014]

§1703.107   Reporting and oversight requirements.

(a) A project performance activity report will be required of all recipients on an annual basis until the project is complete and the funds are expended by the applicant.

(b) A final project performance report must be provided by the recipient. It must provide an evaluation of the success of the project in meeting the objectives of the program. The final report may serve as the last annual report.

(c) RUS will monitor recipients, as it determines necessary, to assure that projects are completed in accordance with the approved scope of work and that the financial assistance is expended for approved purposes.

(d) Recipients shall diligently monitor performance to ensure that time schedules are being met, projected work by time periods is being accomplished, and other performance objectives are being achieved. Recipients are to submit an original and one copy of all project performance reports, including, but not limited to, the following:

(1) A comparison of actual accomplishments to the objectives established for that period;

(2) A description of any problems, delays, or adverse conditions which have occurred, or are anticipated, and which may affect the attainment of overall project objectives, prevent the meeting of time schedules or objectives, or preclude the attainment of particular project work elements during established time periods. This disclosure shall be accompanied by a statement of the action taken or planned to resolve the situation; and

(3) Objectives and timetable established for the next reporting period.

§1703.108   Audit requirements.

A recipient of financial assistance shall provide RUS with an audit for each year, beginning with the year in which a portion of the financial assistance is expended, in accordance with the following:

(a) If the recipient is a for-profit entity, a Telecommunications or Electric borrower, or any other entity not covered by the following paragraph, the recipient shall provide an independent audit report in accordance with 7 CFR part 1773, “Policy on Audits of RUS Borrowers.”

(b) If the recipient is a State or local government, or non-profit organization, the recipient shall provide an audit in accordance with subpart F of 2 CFR part 200, as adopted by USDA through 2 CFR part 400.

[64 FR 14357, Mar. 25, 1999; 64 FR 25422, May 12, 1999, as amended at 79 FR 76001, Dec. 19, 2014]

§1703.109   Grant and loan administration.

RUS will conduct reviews as necessary to determine whether the financial assistance was expended for approved purposes. The recipient is responsible for ensuring that the project complies with all applicable regulations, and that the grants and loans are expended only for approved purposes. The recipient is responsible for ensuring that disbursements and expenditures of funds are properly supported by invoices, contracts, bills of sale, canceled checks, or other appropriate forms of evidence, and that such supporting material is provided to RUS, upon request, and is otherwise made available, at the recipient's premises, for review by the RUS representatives, the recipient's certified public accountant, the Office of Inspector General, U. S. Department of Agriculture, the General Accounting Office, and any other official conducting an audit of the recipient's financial statements or records, and program performance for the grants and loans made under this subpart. The recipient shall permit RUS to inspect and copy any records and documents that pertain to the project.

§1703.110   Changes in project objectives or scope.

The recipient shall obtain prior written approval by RUS for any material change to the scope or objectives of the project, including any changes to the scope of work or the budget submitted to RUS. Any material change shall be contained in a revised scope of work plan to be prepared by the recipient, submitted to, and approved by RUS in writing.

§1703.111   Grant and loan termination.

(a) The financial assistance may be terminated when RUS and the recipient agree upon the conditions of the termination, the effective date of the termination, and, in the case of a partial termination of the financial assistance, any unadvanced portion of the financial assistance to be terminated and any advanced portion of the financial assistance to be returned.

(b) The recipient may terminate the financial assistance by written notification to RUS, providing the reasons for such termination, the effective date, and, in the case of a partial termination, the portion of the financial assistance to be terminated. In the case of a partial termination, if RUS believes that the remaining portion of the financial assistance will not accomplish the approved purposes, then, RUS may terminate the financial assistance in its entirety, pursuant to the provisions of paragraph (a) of this section.

§1703.112   Expedited telecommunications loans

RUS will expedite consideration and determination of an application submitted by an RUS telecommunications borrower for a loan under the Act or an advance of such loan funds to be used in conjunction with financial assistance under subparts E, F, or G of this part. See 7 CFR part 1737 for loans and 7 CFR part 1744 for advances under this section.

§§1703.113-1703.119   [Reserved]

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