Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting applications for grants to enhance telecommunications and broadcast services in rural areas.
“This funding will help small, rural communities across the country gain access to communications technologies to improve health, education, and other services,” Vilsack said. “It will help open doors to the global marketplace. It will deliver specialized medical care and educational services. It will ensure that public television stations can fully convert to digital signals and transmit public safety, health, educational, and cultural programming in isolated areas.”
The funding is available through the Community Connect Grant Program, the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program, and the Public Television Station Digital Transition Grant Program.
“Expanding access to broadband and the critical services provided through telecommunications-enabled equipment in remote areas will greatly improve educational, medical, and economic opportunities for rural residents,” said Oregon USDA Rural Development State Director Vicki Walker. “Rural Americans deserve the same opportunities as metropolitan-area residents, and these funds will help to make that happen.”
Through the Community Connect Grant Program, USDA plans to provide up to $13 million to fund broadband in unserved areas to support economic growth and deliver enhanced educational, healthcare, and public safety services. Awardees must serve an area where broadband does not exist, provide a community center with broadband access, and offer broadband service to all residential and business customers. Details are on page 29405 of the Federal Register.
USDA has had many successes through this program. Since it was created in 2003, USDA has approved more than $142 million for more than 240 Community Connect projects to bring broadband service to rural communities that did not have it before.
Also in a notice contained in the Federal Register, USDA is making available up to $19.3 million in Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program grants to fund access to rural education, training, and healthcare resources. The DLT program finances telecommunications-enabled equipment and advanced technologies for people who live and work in rural areas. Since 2009, USDA has invested almost $150 million in the program. These investments complement other USDA efforts to improve rural communications. Details about the Distance Learning funding being made available today are on page 29399 of the Federal Register.
Through the Public Television Station Digital Transition Grant Program, USDA will provide up to $2 million as part of the Department’s continued support of rural telecommunications and broadcast services. Funds can be used to acquire, lease, or install equipment or software to complete the transition to digital broadcast signals.
While rural stations broadcast their main transmitter signal digitally, many also have translators serving small communities or isolated areas, and these still need to transition from analog to digital. Some rural areas also need fill-in translators in case the signal reception from a main transmitter is lost. These Public Television grants will support those stations to ensure all rural households and businesses receive public television station transmissions. Details are on page 29409 of the Federal Register.
USDA will offer special consideration to Community Connect and Distance Learning and Telemedicine applications that contain at least one end-user site within a trust area or a Tribal jurisdictional area.
President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses, and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way—strengthening America's economy, small towns, and rural communities. USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values.