USDA to spend $500 million to extend high-speed Internet to rural America

USDA to spend $500 million to extend high-speed Internet to rural America

The US Department of Agriculture will send more than $500 million in loans and grants to telecommunications providers to bring high-speed Internet to rural areas in 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.

Iowa will share an $11.4 million project with Minnesota. Spring Grove Communications will receive a split between grants and loans to implement a fiber network to the facility. This network will connect 983 people, 42 businesses and 122 farms to high-speed Internet in Allamakee and Winneshiek counties in Iowa and Houston County in Minnesota, according to the USDA.

The funding, the third round of the department’s ReConnect program, combined with additional money from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law enacted last year, would make a big difference in connecting rural populations and businesses, Vilsack said.

“Now for the first time we have a genuine opportunity to cover literally the entire United States,” Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday. “With the third round of the ReConnect program and the resources available under the Infrastructure Act, I believe we have come a long way to improve and increase the level of service.”

The department will also provide more funding to rural internet programs through the bipartisan infrastructure act “in the coming months,” according to a department news release. More ReConnect awards will also be announced in the coming weeks, the department said.

The current funding stream was intended to improve existing infrastructure, Vilsack told reporters on Wednesday.

“The beauty of this process is that USDA has a very specific role,” he said. “That goal is essentially to increase the capacity of existing facilities.”

The two largest allocations were grants to Alaskan communities.

Alaska Telephone Company will receive $33 million to implement a fiber network to connect 211 people and five businesses in Haines Borough, the Hoonah-Angoon Census Area and Scagway Township.

USDA will provide Arctic Slope Telephone with $31 million for a similar network to connect 476 people, 15 businesses and a public school in North Slope Borough.

Other projects include:

  • A $13.8 million grant to serve western Colorado.
  • A $6.3 million grant to counties on both sides of the Kansas-Nebraska border.
  • A $25 million grant to the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa in Michigan. The project is intended to serve reservation and non-reservation Sault Ste. Marie communities, as well as nearby “vulnerable communities”
  • $25 million split between a grant and a loan for a project in Freeborn County, Minnesota.
  • A $12.4 million loan to 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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