USDA to spend $500 million extending high-speed internet to rural America
One grant will provide service in Jefferson and Thayer Counties in Nebraska
An ultra fast broadband towers is seen on a rural farm. (Sandra Mu/Getty Images)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will send more than $500 million in loans and grants to telecommunications providers to bring high-speed internet to rural areas across 20 states, Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday.
The department will spend $360 million in grants and $141 million in loans through its ReConnect Program to benefit sparsely populated communities, including in Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon and Tennessee.
The funding, the third round from the department’s ReConnect program, combined with additional money from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law enacted last year, would make a major difference in connecting rural populations and businesses, Vilsack said.
“We now have for the first time a genuine opportunity to literally cover all of America,” Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, told reporters on a Wednesday press call. “With the ReConnect program round three and the resources available under the infrastructure law, I think we’ve come a long way to improving and increasing the level of service.”
The department will also provide more funding to rural internet programs through the bipartisan infrastructure law “in the coming months,” according to a department news release. More ReConnect awards would also be announced in coming weeks, the department said.
The current funding stream was targeted to upgrade existing infrastructure, Vilsack told reporters Wednesday.
“The beauty of this process is USDA has a very specific role,” he said. “That goal is to essentially increase the capacity of existing facilities.”
The funding includes a $6.3 million grant for several counties on both sides of the Nebraska-Kansas border. The project description:
- This Rural Development investment will be used to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 704 people, 17 businesses, and 225 farms to high-speed internet in Jackson, Nemaha, Pottawatomie, Republic, Washington, and Riley Counties in Kansas as well as Jefferson and Thayer Counties in Nebraska. JBN Telephone Company Inc. will make high-speed internet affordable by participating in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity and Lifeline programs by providing low-income consumers who qualify up to $30 in monthly service credit.
Other projects include:
- A $33 million grant to the Alaska Telephone Company to deploy a fiber network to connect 211 people and five business in Haines Borough, the Hoonah-Angoon Census Area and the Skagway Municipality.
- A $31 million grant to Arctic Slope Telephone for a similar network to connect 476 people, 15 businesses and a public school in the North Slope Borough.
- A $13.8 million grant to serve western Colorado.
- A $25 million grant for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa in Michigan. The project is meant to serve reservation and nonreservation Sault Ste. Marie communities, as well as nearby “vulnerable communities.”
- $25 million split between a grant and loan for a project in Freeborn County, Minnesota.
- A $12.4 million loan for Barton County, Missouri.
- A $24.7 million grant for two counties in southern North Carolina.
- A $20.5 million grant-loan for eastern Oregon.
The full list is available here.
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