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To expand access: USDA funds Internet loans

Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced the approval of 20 rural broadband and telecommunication loans totaling $190 million to expand access to advanced Internet technology in 19 states.

“We are committed to insuring that every household in America has access to broadband by the year 2007,” said Veneman. “This technology is important for families and businesses to succeed in a global environment.”

Veneman announced in January 2003 that USDA would expand efforts to bring farmers, rural residents and businesses greater access to improved telecommunication technology through loans and loan guarantees to rural telecommunications providers.

To date, she said, over $206 million in broadband loans have been approved in the program, which was authorized in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.

The rural broadband access program provides loans and loan guarantees for the construction, improvement, and acquisition of facilities and equipment for broadband service in eligible rural communities. Priority is given to applications that are proposing to serve areas where no residential broadband service currently exists.

Telecommunication companies like Nex-Tech, Inc., of Lenora, Kan., are improving the capability for rural businesses and farmers and ranchers to compete globally through better access to the Internet.

One of their customers, Osborne Industries, shared with Veneman how their local agricultural services manufacturing company is utilizing high-speed connection to better manage and market their products in domestic and international markets. Nex-Tech will receive a $5.4 million loan to further expand broadband access to 1,400 new subscribers.

Of the $190 million announced, $150 million resulted from funding available through the 2002 farm bill. The remaining $40 million in loans announced came from Rural Development's traditional telecommunications program.

Borrowers are required under the traditional program to insure that all infrastructure built includes broadband capability. Since 2001, the traditional program has provided $2 billion in funding, providing over 771,000 rural homes and businesses with access to high speed connections.

USDA provides a number of other tools to advance broadband service in rural America. Included is the Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program, with funding levels of $25 million a year. USDA has also used a broadband grant program called Community Connect as well as community facilities programs to build connectivity for rural homes and businesses.

USDA Rural Development's mission is to deliver programs in a way that will support increasing economic opportunity and improve the quality of life of rural residents. Rural Development provides assistance to finance and foster growth in homeownership, business development, and critical community and technology infrastructure.

Further information on rural programs is available at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov.

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