Special to the Banner-News
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced nearly $700 million in grants and loans to connect thousands of rural residents, farmers and business owners in 22 states and the Marshall Islands to reliable, affordable high-speed internet through the ReConnect Program, funded by President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This program is uniquely designed to fund the most difficult high-speed internet projects in the nation, which are the most rural, remote and unserved communities.
Connecting all communities across the United States to high-speed internet is a central part of President Biden's Investing in America agenda to rebuild the economy from the bottom up and middle out by rebuilding our nation's infrastructure.This agenda is driving more than $500 billion in private-sector manufacturing investments, rebuilding America's infrastructure, lowering costs, and creating good-paying jobs. And it's transforming our country for the better – reaching communities in every corner of the United States, including those that have too often been left behind.
"Keeping the people of rural America connected with reliable, high-speed internet brings new and innovative ideas to the rest of our country and creates good-paying jobs along the way," Secretary Vilsack said. "Thanks to President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are connecting rural communities to a global marketplace. These investments will support economic growth and prosperity for generations to come."
Today's high-speed internet investments are part of the fourth funding round of the ReConnect Program. Many residents and businesses in rural areas would not have high-speed internet service without the ReConnect Program, as the program is a key part of the Administration's Internet for Allinitiative to connect everyone in America to high-speed internet by 2030. Today's announcement includes $667 million in USDA investments in Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the Marshall Islands.
Today's announcement includes several investments that will benefit people living in Rural Partners Network (RPN) communities. RPN works with hundreds of federal, state and local partners to address specific needs in rural communities that have long struggled to access government programs and funding.
RPN helps these communities carry out locally driven plans to create jobs, build infrastructure and support economic growth and stability.
Examples of projects in this announcement include:
In North Carolina, Star Telephone Membership Corporation is receiving a $24.9 million grant to benefit 2,674 people, 84 businesses, 117 farms and four educational facilities in Bladen, Columbus and Sampson counties. Bladen and Columbus are part of an RPN community.
In Oregon, Pioneer Telephone Cooperative is receiving a $24.9 million grant to benefit 2,239 people, 50 businesses, 205 farms and one educational facility in Lincoln, Lane and Benton counties.
In New Mexico, SWC Telesolutions Inc. is receiving a $9.2 million grant to benefit 4,962 people, 106 businesses, 11 farms and 17 educational facilities in Doña Ana and Sierra counties. Doña Ana County is part of an RPN community.
Also, as part of USDA's commitment to expand high-speed internet access, the Hood Canal Telephone Co. Inc. is receiving a $3.8 million loan through the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan & Loan Guarantee Program. This investment will help construct 16 miles of fiber to provide high-speed internet access to 800 households and 10 businesses in Union, Washington.
A full list of projects from today's announcement is available online.
Background: ReConnect Program
Applicants to ReConnect Program funding must serve a rural area that lacks access to service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload. Applicants must also commit to building facilities capable of providing high-speed internet service with speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to every location in the proposed service area. Additionally, to ensure that rural households that need internet service can afford it, all awardees will be required to apply to participate in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The ACP offers a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service to qualifying low-income households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal Lands.
Background: Bipartisan Infrastructure Law
President Biden forged consensus and compromise between Democrats, Republicans and Independents to demonstrate our democracy can deliver big wins for the American people. After decades of talk on rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure, President Biden delivered the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – a historic investment in America that will change people's lives for the better and get America moving again.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $65 billion to ensure every American has access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet through a historic investment in broadband infrastructure deployment. The legislation also lowers costs for internet service and helps close the digital divide, so that more Americans can take full advantage of the opportunities provided by internet access.
To learn more about investment resources for rural areas, visit www.rd.usda.gov or contact the nearest USDA Rural Development state office.
USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities, create jobs and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural, tribal and high-poverty areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.