USDA Accepting Applications to Fund Rural Broadband Services

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The agency is making at least $600 million available and the pot is open to rural electrical cooperatives and municipalities, as well as telecom companies.

Technology usage generally requires a robust broadband connection that many communities in rural America currently lack. The Agriculture Department hopes to strengthen and expand those weak broadband services and infrastructures through the recently established loan and grant-based ReConnect Rural Broadband Pilot Program.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced last week the department is now accepting online applications for funding through ReConnect.

“Reliable, high-speed broadband internet e-Connectivity is critical for economic prosperity and quality of life in the 21st century, from education to health care to agriculture to manufacturing and beyond,” Perdue said in a statement. “We at USDA are very excited to begin accepting applications for funds from this new and innovative program, which will bring critical infrastructure investments to homes, farms, ranches, schools and health care sites in rural America.”

The funds will support the development of modern broadband infrastructure in places with insufficient internet service, which the agency defines as “connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second download and 1 megabit per second upload.”

Agriculture is making at least $600 million available in rural broadband projects through this first round of funding. The agency will turn appropriations from Congress into $200 million in grants, $200 million in loan and grant combinations and $200 million in low interest loans.

The deadlines for each of the funding packages span between late-May and mid-July. Telecommunications companies, rural electric cooperatives and utilities, internet service providers and municipalities are encouraged to apply.

Congress first appropriated the funds for ReConnect in 2018. According to Agriculture, “the program will be a proof-of-concept, enabling USDA to create and implement innovative options for rural connectivity by providing various financial packages to [their] customers.”

Agriculture said future rounds of funding for ReConnect will be announced later this year.

Brandi Vincent is a Staff Correspondent at Nextgov.

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