Greg Ibach, USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs undersecretary, recently announced that USDA has invested $5.7 million in a high-speed broadband infrastructure project that will create or improve rural e-connectivity in parts of three Nebraska counties.
The investment is expected to connect 489 rural households, 24 farms and eight businesses to high-speed broadband internet in unserved portions of Madison, Wayne and Pierce counties. This is one of many funding announcements in the first round of USDA's ReConnect Pilot Program investments.
"From my experience on my family's farm to my time as Nebraska's director of agriculture, I know firsthand that high-speed broadband internet connectivity is essential to making agricultural businesses more efficient and profitable," Ibach said.
"While serving the state of Nebraska, I saw the potential impact that high-speed broadband would have not only for agricultural producers, but for everyone in our community. It is a privilege to now serve at USDA, under the leadership of President [Donald] Trump and Agriculture Secretary [Sonny] Perdue, and see the administration make the deployment of this critical infrastructure in rural America a top priority."
Eastern Nebraska Telephone Co. will use a $5.7 million ReConnect program grant to construct 221 miles of fiber-to-the-premises broadband infrastructure. The company will use matching funds of $1.9 million to complete the project, for a total project cost of $7.6 million.
Eastern is a certificated local exchange carrier providing broadband service to its eight exchanges in eastern Nebraska. The company, headquartered in Blair, Neb., provides long-distance and wireline voice to all its exchange areas and high-speed broadband service to select areas.
In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, Perdue announced the rules of the program, called ReConnect, including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America.
USDA received 146 applications, requesting $1.4 billion in funding across all three ReConnect program funding products: 100% loan, 100% grant, and loan-grant combinations. USDA is reviewing applications and announcing approved projects on a rolling basis. Additional investments in all three categories will be made in the coming weeks.
These grants, loans and combination funds enable the federal government to partner with the private sector and rural communities to build modern broadband infrastructure in areas with insufficient internet service. Insufficient service is defined as connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second download and 1 Mbps upload.
In December, Perdue announced that USDA will be making available an additional $550 million in ReConnect funding in 2020. USDA will make available up to $200 million for grants, up to $200 million for grant-loan combinations, and up to $200 million for low-interest loans.
The application window for this round of funding will open Jan. 31. Applications for all funding products will be accepted in the same application window, which will close no later than March 16.
To learn more about eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements, visit usda.gov/reconnect.