September 22, 2022
Over 70% of counties in the U.S. are considered rural, and 6 million residents call rural America home. The lack of reliable internet access is a major economic barrier and leaves rural areas isolated and left behind.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $502 million in loans and grants to provide high-speed internet access for rural residents and businesses in 20 states. This is part of the third round of funding available through USDA's ReConnect Program.
The Department will make additional investments for rural high-speed internet in the coming months through the ReConnect Program and beyond, including funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides $65 billion to expand high-speed internet across the U.S.
“President Biden’s commitment to high-speed internet in rural communities is foundational to ensuring that the nation’s economy continues to expand from the bottom up and the middle out,” Vilsack said. “High-speed internet will improve the rural economy. It will help rural businesses grow and get access to new markets. It will help rural residents get access to more and better health care and educational opportunities.”
Greg Puckett, Chair of the National Association of Counties’ Rural Action Caucus, says the group is working diligently with USDA on a mapping project to better understand the areas of the U.S. with poor or no high-speed internet access. Puckett explains the project will help target funding to improve broadband access for all rural residents.
USDA is making 32 awards to projects in Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming. Many of the awards will help rural people and businesses on Tribal lands and people in socially vulnerable communities.
Examples of projects receiving funding include:
In Michigan, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa is receiving a $25 million grant to connect 1,217 people and 26 businesses to high-speed internet in Chippewa and Mackinac counties.
Net Vision Communications LLC is receiving a $12.4 million loan to connect 4,587 people, 300 businesses, nine farms and 15 public schools to high-speed internet in Barton County, Missouri.
Oklahoma’s Southern Plains Cable LLC is receiving an $8.1 million loan and an $8.1 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network that will connect 7,093 people, 230 businesses, six farms and 29 schools to high-speed internet in Caddo, Comanche, Cotton and Grady counties.
Earlier this summer, the Department announced a $356 million investment through the ReConnect Program to help rural residents and businesses in 11 states gain access to high-speed internet. USDA has announced $858 million in the third round of ReConnect funding so far and plans to make more investment announcements under this program in the coming weeks to add to that total.
To be eligible for ReConnect Program funding, an applicant must serve an area where high-speed internet service speeds are lower than 100 megabits per second (download) and 20 Mbps (upload). The applicant must also commit to building facilities capable of providing high-speed internet service at speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to every location in its proposed service area.
To learn more about investment resources for rural areas, visit www.rd.usda.gov or contact the nearest USDA Rural Development state office.
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