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

Name
Tammi Schone
City
Washington
State
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.

In Sioux Falls, SD, Avera Health has been selected for a $294,586 grant to purchase equipment and software to expand and improve Avera’s video telemedicine network, which connects 32 rural clinics and hospitals in South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota. Participating clinics will receive telephonic stethoscopes and other devices for their video-equipped exam rooms. The technology will give health providers and patients real-time, face-to-face consultations with specialized physicians at the hub hospitals in Sioux Falls, Marshall and Pierre. The system will double as an instructional medium so rural health providers can receive medical education and mentoring.

Vilsack today announced more than $16 million in USDA grants for distance learning.

The Distance Learning program complements 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.

Last summer, President Obama announced an effort to connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed Internet over the next five years. As part of that effort, Secretary Vilsack said that 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.  As of January 2013, 168 educational institutions are receiving new or improved broadband service as a result of projects funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 

View the full list of recipients for Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants here.  Each award is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the grant agreement.

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.