In the second round of funding through USDA’s ReConnect Program, Michigan has been awarded $10.3 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in southwest and northeast Michigan.
“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now — as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said during a virtual press conference. “Access to telehealth services, remote learning for schoolchildren and remote business operations all require access to broadband.”
Allband Multimedia LLC will use a $3.6 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fixed wireless network to connect 3,678 people, 64 farms, 54 businesses, four educational facilities and a post office to high-speed broadband internet in Alpena, Alcona and Iosco counties in northeast Michigan.
Southwest Michigan Communications Inc. will use a $3.3 million ReConnect grant and a $3.3 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 3,203 people, 40 farms and 27 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Van Buren, Kalamazoo and Allegan counties.
Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski, who participated in the virtual press conference, welcomed the news, noting that broadband is no longer a luxury but a necessity.
“Rural broadband is essential to Michigan farmers to operate their business and to maintain their family’s quality of life,” Bednarski said. “Michigan farmers embrace technology that allows their farming operations to be more efficient, economical and environmentally sensitive.”
Bednarski said that broadband connectivity is necessary for cloud-connected farm equipment such as planters, irrigators, tractors and combines to handle huge volumes of data and automatically change application rates for seed, fertilizer and other inputs.
Good for rural America
The implications for rural Michigan communities also are significant, Bednarski added, noting that the Federal Communications Commission estimates 26.4% of rural Americans lack broadband access.
“With more than 19 million rural Americans not having broadband access, it’s essential we erase the digital divide as we deal with COVID-19,” Bednarski said. “Doctors and nurses in rural Michigan must be able to quickly connect with medical specialists, but it requires dependable broadband access.”
Adequate broadband services also are essential for many rural Michigan schools to conduct classes online, Bednarski said.
“Rural students without broadband access will be severely limited in their ability to stay connected with their teachers and keep up with classes,” Bednarski said. “Schoolchildren should not have to go to a fast-food restaurant or coffee shop in town to get access to high-speed internet because it’s unavailable at home.”
Initial funding for the ReConnect program was included in a March 2018 congressional funding package, providing $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America.
Since then, the USDA ReConnect Program has invested $698 million to bring high-speed broadband to about 167,000 households; 17,000 rural small businesses and farms; and more than 500 health care centers, educational facilities and critical community facilities located in 33 states.
USDA announced this past April that the department had received another 172 applications for $1.57 billion in the second round of funding for the ReConnect Program. Eleven of those applications were eligible for the $100 million Congress allocated to the program through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, Perdue said.
“I am so proud of our rural communities who have been working day in and day out, just like they always do, producing the food and fiber America depends on,” Perdue said. “We need them more than ever during these trying times, and expanding access to this critical infrastructure will help ensure rural America prospers for years to come.”
To learn more about ReConnect Program eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements, visit usda.gov/reconnect.