There’s no question that rural America is underserved when it comes to high-speed internet. The $550 million ReConnect program from USDA is a coordinated effort to work on ways to solve that problem.
As part of the program, several Western states are getting grants and loans to support investment in improved connectivity.
As USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue notes in the announcement, “The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now — as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency. Access to telehealth services, remote learning for schoolchildren, and remote business operations all require access to broadband.”
In Colorado, Emery Telecommunications & Video Inc. will use a $6.3 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the premises network to connect 1,638 people, 91 farms, 52 business, three fire stations and two post offices to high-speed broadband internet in Dolores, San Miguel and Montezuma counties.
In Montana, Project Telephone Co. will use a $5.4 million ReConnect grant and a $5.4 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 2,182 people, 160 farms and 67 businesses to high-speed internet in Big Horn, Stillwater and Carbon counties.
In Idaho, Midvale Telephone Co. will use a $5.4 million ReConnect grant and a $5.4 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 236 people, 15 businesses and one fire station to the internet in Washington, Custer, Blaine, Valley and Idaho counties.
Direct Communications Rockland Inc., will use a $9.8 million ReConnect grant and a $9.8 million ReConnect loan to deploy high-speed internet over fiber to 2,064 people, 118 farms, 30 businesses, a post office and a fire station in Bear Lake, Power, Franklin and Oneida counties in Idaho.
And for Idaho, Oregon and Nevada, Oregon-Idaho Utilities Inc. will use a $12.8 million ReConnect grant to deploy fiber to 612 people, 75 farms and three businesses in Owyhee County, Idaho; Malheur County, Ore., and Humboldt and Elko counties in Nevada.
2 rounds of funding
In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure, and the ReConnect program was born in December 2018. The program can provide either grants or loans to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America.
On April 2020, USDA received 17 applications for $1.57 billion in Round 2 of the ReConnect program. The second round will enable USDA to implement innovative new solutions to rural connectivity by leveraging financial options, and continuing the work started with the first round of funding.
In Round 1, USDA invested $698 million to bring high-speed broadband e-connectivity 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 in 33 states.
USDA received 11 Round 2 ReConnect Program applications eligible for the $100 million Congress allocated through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act. You can learn more about the program at usda.gov/reconnect.
Advancing broadband infrastructure in the country is a continuing issue. As farmers work to adopt new technology, much of it works in the cloud. This requires not only reliable access to the internet through 4G, and eventually, 5G technology, but also through fiber and other technologies for connecting to the internet. ReConnect is one tool available to help make this happen.