USDA to Invest in Rural Internet

USDA Boosts Rural Broadband With $401 Million in 11 States

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Buried, underground fiberoptic cable carries high-speed internet in most rural areas. USDA announced this week $401 million in investments to rural internet in 11 states. (DTN Photo by Russ Quinn)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced $401 million of funding to provide high-speed internet to 31,000 rural residents in 11 states.

These would be investments through the ReConnect Program and USDA's Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee program.

In addition to these, USDA will make additional investments later this summer for the ReConnect Program. The funding will come from $65 billion set aside in the infrastructure law approved last fall.

"Connectivity is critical to economic success in rural America," Vilsack said in a press conference late Wednesday afternoon. "The internet is vital to our growth and continues to act as a catalyst for our prosperity."

Vilsack said 72% of rural residents have access to high-speed internet. This number drops to only 63% with access for rural residents who live in areas with high poverty levels, he said.

USDA will support high-speed internet investments in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas. Several awards are aimed at rural residents and businesses on tribal lands and those in socially vulnerable communities.

Among the announcements, Uprise LLC is receiving a $27.1 million grant to build a fiber-to-premises network in Pershing County, Nevada. The grant will connect 4,884 people, 130 businesses, 22 farms and seven public schools to high-speed internet.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said on a press conference Wednesday she has been working hard to get investments in rural internet in her state. She is grateful to USDA for this grant to expand high-speed internet for nearly 5,000 rural Nevadans.

"Accountability is necessary in this process," Cortez Masto said. "We want to make sure the money gets to where it needs to go to provide reliable and affordable internet."

Mitch Landrieu, special adviser to President Joe Biden, said in the press conference the Biden administration wants to connect all rural residents to high-speed internet. Rural residents must have access to operate their businesses, teach their children and utilize telemedicine.

"We have to have a level playing field across the country," Landrieu said. "When rural America succeeds, we all succeed."

Other projects approved in this round of announced investments include: $11.9 million grant to the Arkansas Telephone Company; $1.9 million grant to San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative in Colorado; $4 million grant to Blackfoot Telephone Cooperative and a $24.9 million grant to Nemont Telephone Company in Montana; $18.5 million grant to Reservation Telephone Cooperative in both Montana and North Dakota; $9.8 million grant and that amount in a loan to Central Texas Telephone Cooperative Inc. and $16.6 million grant to Five Area Telephone Cooperative Inc., both in Texas.

Loans in this round of funding totaled almost $135 million while grants were $266 million for a grand total just under $401 million.

To be eligible for ReConnect Program funding, applicants must serve an area where high-speed internet service speeds are lower than 100 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload. Those applying for the program also must commit to building facilities capable of providing high-speed internet service at speeds of 100 Mbps, both upload and download, to every location in its proposed service area.

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Russ Quinn