USDA to spend $500 million extending high-speed internet to rural America

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Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will send more than $500 million in loans and grants to telecom service providers to provide high-speed internet to rural areas in 20 states.

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 participate in a $11.4 million project with Minnesota. Spring Grove Communications will receive a split between grant and loan funding to deploy an on-premises fiber optic network. This network will connect 983 people, 42 businesses, and 122 farms with high-speed Internet in Allamakee and Winneshiek counties in Iowa and Houston counties in Minnesota, according to the USDA.

Vilsack said the funding, the administration’s third round of ReConnect, along with additional money from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law enacted last year, will make a huge difference in connecting rural residents and businesses.

“Now, for the first time, we have a real opportunity to cover literally all of America,” Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, told reporters on a news conference Wednesday. “With the third round of ReConnect 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 for rural internet programs through the bipartisan infrastructure law “in the coming months,” according to a ministry press release. The department said that more ReConnect Awards will be announced in the coming weeks.

Vilsack told reporters on Wednesday that the current funding is aimed at modernizing existing infrastructure.

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

The two largest allocations were both grants to Alaskan communities.

The Alaska Telephone Company will receive $33 million to deploy a fiber network to connect 211 people and five businesses in Haines Borough, the Honah-Angon Census Area, and Skagway County.

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

Other projects include:

  • A $13.8 million grant to serve western Colorado.
  • Grant $6.3 million to counties on both sides of the Kansas-Nebraska border.
  • A $25 million grant to Sault Ste newspaper. Mari of the Chippewa tribe in Michigan. The project aims to serve the reservation and non-reservation service in Sault Ste. Mari communities as well as nearby “vulnerable communities”
  • $25 million divided 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 to two counties in southern North Carolina.
  • A $20.5 million loan grant to Eastern Oregon.

The full list is available here.

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