Rural Broadband Projects Get $500M USDA Funding

The Biden administration on Thursday announced half a billion dollars in grants and loans for broadband internet projects in rural areas from Alaska to Alabama, with more awards expected soon. The 2021 Infrastructure Bill earmarked billions of dollars for broadband access, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said: “We now have, truly, an opportunity to cover all the ‘Rural America.’

More than 30 million Americans live in rural and urban areas without an internet connection at “minimally acceptable speeds,” the report said. White House last fall. Slow connections are a particular problem in rural areas, he said. The Infrastructure Act allocated $65 billion to improve internet services for rural areas, low-income families and tribal communities.

Vilsack said 32 projects in 20 states would receive $502 million in funding through the USDA. Reconnect Program. With these prizes, $858 million has been committed of the $1.15 billion offered in the third round of applications. The deadline for requests for a similar amount of funding under the fourth round is November 2.

Pine Belt Telephone Co., which serves west-central Alabama, received the top prize Thursday, at $49.7 million. The award, split equally between loans and grants, will be used to deploy a fiber optic network serving 16,000 people, 608 businesses, 52 educational institutions and 407 farms, the USDA said. “This project will serve socially vulnerable communities in Choctaw, Dallas and Clarke counties.”

The largest grants, totaling $63 million, went to two projects in Alaska, one near Skagway on the Alaskan Panhandle and the other on the North Slope, the northernmost part of the United States, over the Arctic Ocean. Both would serve sparsely populated areas, with a total of 687 people, 19 businesses and a high school involved. Vilsack said the North Slope project exemplifies the commitment to high-quality internet nationwide.

“Broadband is imperative” in a country that increasingly relies on digital connections, said Greg Puckett, who chairs the National Counties Association’s Rural Action Caucus. Without it, he said, rural communities “face a real economic hurdle”.

At the beginning of this year, in a Purdue University Poll, 12% of large farmers said they had no internet access and 16% said they had a poor quality connection. “Only three in ten respondents said they had ‘high quality’ internet access, followed by 41% who chose ‘moderate quality,'” wrote Purdue economists James Mintert and Michael Langemeier.

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