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USDA to Make Up to $1.15 Billion Available to Help People Living in Rural Communities Access High-Speed Internet

Name
Philip Eggman
Phone
City
Olympia
Release Date
Oct 22, 2021

Department Will Invest $1.9 Million to Improve Access to Telemedicine and Distance Learning In Rural Washington State

GENESEO, Ill., Oct. 22, 2021 – U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a significant expansion of access to high-speed internet, health care and educational services for millions of rural Americans nationwide. Today’s announcement continues to move forward President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda by prioritizing economic growth in rural America and investing in the backbone of our country – the middle class.

“For too long, the ‘digital divide’ has left too many people living in rural communities behind: unable to compete in the global economy and unable to access the services and resources that all Americans need,” Vilsack said. “As we build back better than we were before, the actions I am announcing today will go a long way toward ensuring that people who live or work in rural areas are able to tap into the benefits of broadband, including access to specialized health care, educational opportunities and the global marketplace. Rural people, businesses and communities must have affordable, reliable, high-speed internet so they can fully participate in modern society and the modern economy.”

Background: ReConnect Program

Secretary Vilsack spoke about USDA’s commitment to helping rural Americans get improved access to broadband and health care during a visit to the newly renovated emergency department at Hammond Henry Hospital. The project was financed in part by a USDA loan.

He announced that on November 24 USDA will begin accepting applications for up to $1.15 billion in loans and grants to expand the availability of broadband in rural areas. USDA is making the funding available through the ReConnect Program.

To be eligible for ReConnect Program funding, an applicant must serve an area without broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 20 Mbps (upload), and commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to every location in its proposed service area. In making funding decisions, USDA will prioritize projects that will serve low-density rural areas with locations lacking internet access services at speeds of at least 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload). In making funding decisions, the USDA will also consider, among other things, the economic needs of the community to be served; the extent which a provider will offer affordable service options; a project’s commitment to strong labor standards; and whether a project is serving tribal lands or is submitted by a local government, Tribal Government, non-profit or cooperative.

USDA has simplified the application process and has expanded the program significantly. For example, ReConnect will now offer 100 percent grants for certain projects on tribal lands and in socially vulnerable communities.

The Department plans to make available up to $200 million in ReConnect Program loans, up to $250 million in loan/grant combinations, up to $350 million in grants with a 25 percent matching requirement, and up to $350 million in grants with no matching requirement for projects in tribal and socially vulnerable communities.

Background: Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants

Vilsack also announced today a $50 million investment in 105 rural distance learning and telemedicine (PDF, 224 KB) projects in 37 states and Puerto Rico, including $1.9 million in Washington State. These awards are being funded through USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program. This program helps fund distance learning and telemedicine services in rural areas to increase access to education, training and health care resources that are otherwise limited or unavailable. For example:

  • In Yakima, USDA’s distance learning and telemedicine investment includes a $524,514 grant to Centro De Servicios Comunitarios to help provide support for both telemedicine and remote learning services on the Yakama Indian Reservation. 
  • In Lincoln County, a $523.919 grant will be awarded to the Davenport School District to serve students and members of the Davenport, Hatton, Lind and Ritzville communities by bringing telecommunications equipment into local schools and begin offering residents access to telemedicine opportunities.
  • The University of Washington (UW) will received a $941,760 grant to connect 12 rural dental clinics in the states of Washington and Montana through state-of-the-art tele-dentistry equipment to the UW's School of Dentistry. The direct service area includes 57,000 residents, but the project is expected to have an impact on surrounding areas as well, with a total affected population of 890,000. 

For additional information on the upcoming ReConnect Program funding opportunity, see the Oct. 22, 2021, Federal Register (PDF, 319 KB). Once the application window opens, applications must be submitted through USDA Rural Development’s online application system on the ReConnect webpage. All required materials for completing an application are included in the online system.

To learn more about ReConnect Program eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements, visit www.usda.gov/reconnect.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.