USDA Rural Utilities Service Administrator Brandon McBride announced that nearly six million Americans who live and work in rural areas now have access to new or improved high-speed internet service, thanks to USDA funding provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
"I am proud to announce that all of the active projects USDA has financed through the Recovery Act are now providing broadband service in rural areas nationwide," McBride said. "In 2009, the Obama Administration pushed for, and Congress provided USDA with, an unprecedented level of funding and five years to connect rural areas to high-speed networks. Bringing broadband to these areas is having a tremendous impact on rural communities. This access means more jobs, better education and a higher quality of life. The economic viability of rural America, like all of America, depends on access to broadband."
Two hundred fifty-four Recovery Act broadband projects financed by USDA's Rural Utilities Service totaling $2.9 billion are providing broadband service in 44 states and American Samoa. More than $83.5 million was provided for projects in Montana.
More than half the infrastructure projects were completed under budget, resulting in the return of nearly $113 million to the U.S. Treasury. The measure's five-year period for funding broadband projects expired at the end of the 2015 fiscal year.
These projects have brought high-speed Internet access to 260,000 rural households, 17,500 businesses and 1,900 community facilities. The service providers estimate that completed projects could provide access for more than 5.8 million rural consumers.
In Montana, more than $19.4 million was received by Project Telephone, a subsidiary of Nemont Telephone, for two projects. One funded the installation of a fiber connection from points on the Crow Reservation to Billings. In doing so, fiber optic cable was buried to St. Xavier through Pryor which also increased the bandwidth for those communities. The second project was a “Fiber To The Home” network covering both the town and rural areas for all residents of the Crow Agency and Lodge Grass.
"Agricultural producers now have access to up-to-date market and commodities information. There are more opportunities for home based businesses and existing businesses to have faster and more reliable internet service. Students can now earn college degrees online or take continuing education classes from their homes,” said Janelle Gustafson, Acting State Director. “The Recovery Act and USDA Rural Development have provided rural Montanans with a powerful tool to improve their quality of life and economic opportunities.”
According to the Federal Communications Commission, only 47 percent of people who live and work in rural areas have access to high-speed internet, compared to 90 percent of those who live and work in urban and metropolitan areas.
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.