12.13.18

USDA offering up to $600 million in loans, grants for broadband expansion

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is offering up to $600 million in loans and grants to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America. 

Telecommunications companies, rural electric cooperatives and utilities, internet service providers and municipalities may apply to USDA’s new program for funding to connect rural areas that currently have insufficient broadband service, according to the release.

USDA Rural Development is the primary agency delivering the program, with assistance from other federal partners. 

“High-speed internet e-Connectivity is a necessity, not an amenity, vital for quality of life and economic opportunity, so we hope that today rural communities kick-off their rural broadband project planning,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. 

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said connectivity is "essential for individuals, families, students, businesses, and communities to succeed." 

"Without access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet, rural communities and rural states like West Virginia are being left behind when it comes to education, health care, job creation and retention, and overall economic potential," Capito said. 

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., too, said he was glad to see the USDA launch this program, which will prioritize broadband deployment for rural states like West Virginia. 

“West Virginia faces unique challenges when it comes to providing broadband access, and the first step to fixing that is making sure rural states like West Virginia are priority," Manchin said. "Strong broadband access for the Mountain State will be a game changer to not only our economy, but also our public safety, education, and connectivity to our friends and family." 

USDA will make available approximately $200 million for grants (applications due to USDA by April 29), as well as $200 million for loan and grant combinations (applications due May 29), and $200 million for low-interest loans (applications due by June 28). 

Projects funded through this initiative must serve communities with fewer than 20,000 people with no broadband service or where service is slower than 10 megabits per second (mbps) download and 1 mbps upload. 

Approved projects must create access speeds of at least 25 mbps upload and 3 mbps download. Priority will be awarded for projects that propose to deliver higher-capacity connections to rural homes, businesses, and farms. USDA seeks to stretch these funds as far as possible by leveraging existing networks and systems without overbuilding existing services greater than 10/1 mpbs. 

To help potential applicants with the application process, USDA has created a resource portal at reconnect.usda.gov, and the department is holding online webinars and regional in-person workshops. The first technical assistance webinar will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 18. The full list of upcoming public webinars and workshops can be found at the ReConnect Program’s resource portal at reconnect.usda.gov.


By:  Wendy Holdren
Source: Beckley Register-Herald