Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the Obama Administration is investing in rural telecommunications equipment to help expand access to education, create jobs and improve health care.
"Expanding access to broadband will greatly improve educational and economic opportunities for rural residents," Vilsack said. "Broadband gives students more courses to choose from, more skills to use in high-paying jobs, and more opportunities to enroll in colleges and universities offering the best education available today. We must make needed investments to connect our rural residents to the 21st century technology that will help them compete in a global economy."
Today's announcement of nearly $16 million in USDA grants for distance learning and telemedicine services helps to support President Obama's ConnectED initiative. In June 2013, President Obama announced an effort to connect 99 percent of America's students to high-speed Internet over the next five years. Since 2009 USDA has provided support for more than 3,300 educational institutions receiving distance learning services to help rural children get an education that is as good as that of their peers in cities.
Today's investments are being provided through USDA's Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant program. It provides funding to rural hospitals, clinics, schools and libraries for equipment and technical assistance for telemedicine and distance learning. Grant recipients must demonstrate that they serve rural America, prove there is an economic need and provide at least 15 percent in matching funds.
"Since 2009, communities in Hawaii and the Western Pacific have been awarded over $600,000 in grants for Distance Learning and Telemedicine." said Chris Kanazawa, USDA Rural Development State Director for Hawaii/Western Pacific. "This included a grant to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for videoconferencing equipment that linked two hubs with 15 public schools, charter schools and the Department of Hawaiian Home Land community centers in rural areas."
Since 2009, USDA has invested almost $150 million in the Distance Learning and Telemedicine program. These investments complement other USDA efforts to improve rural communications. In FY 2013, USDA provided $305 million in loans for broadband infrastructure. These loans will result in new or upgraded broadband service for about 120,000 rural households, businesses and community institutions once the projects are completed. High-speed broadband access is as vital to the educational and economic fortunes of rural America as electricity was in the 1930s and 1940s.
"We encourage eligible nonprofit organizations and public bodies to contact one of our local offices on Oahu, Hawaii, Maui, Kauai or Molokai for information and assistance in the preparation of an application," said Thao Khamoui, USDA Rural Development Area Director in Hawaii. "A list of office addresses and phone numbers is available on our website."
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.