USDA Announces Investments to Expand Distance Learning and Telemedicine Opportunities in Rural Areas

Jay Fletcher (202) 690-0498
District of Columbia
Release Date
Feb 04, 2014

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 in 25 states.

"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.

For example, Davis Memorial Hospital in Randolph County, W.Va., has been selected for a $74,189 grant. Rural Development funds will be used to establish a video-based telemedicine consultation platform between physicians at Davis Memorial and three rural nursing homes in neighboring counties of this Central West Virginia mountainous region. Equipment includes video displays, codecs, and electronic stethoscopes at the nursing home facilities of Cortland Acres in Thomas (Tucker County), Pendleton Manor in Franklin (Pendleton County) and Mansfield Place in Philippi (Barbour County). Physicians will be equipped with iPads and video-enabling software for mobility within the hospital to increase their availability to observe and provide diagnosis for residents/patients.

Also in The Mountain State, Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College, Hardy County, West Virginia, has been selected for a $215,620 grant. Those funds will be used by the entity to expand the delivery of their distance learning system and offer college level courses and workforce development programs to high schools in the region. From the College’s hub site in Moorefield, the project will acquire video teleconferencing systems to outfit video endpoints at high schools in Hampshire, Grant, Tucker and Pendleton Counties. The distance learning system will also host forums to promote community leadership and business development courses that will prepare students to actively build stronger and more economically vibrant communities.

The South Central Ohio Computer Association in Piketon, Ohio, has been selected for a $184,000 grant to link 20 high schools. The Association will train students for high technology careers through a mentoring program using advanced communications technology. In Idaho, funds will be used by the Idaho Education Network to purchase distance learning equipment for K-8 schools in 62 of Idaho's most rural and economically challenged communities. The distance learning equipment will also be used to train emergency service personnel after school hours.

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.

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.