The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development is providing $6 million to expand high-speed broadband infrastructure that will provide e-connectivity for nearly 650 new customers in rural Grant and Wheeler counties, announced State Director John Huffman today. This is one of many funding announcements nationwide in the first round of USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program investments.
“Internet access is no longer an amenity; it is an essential component of daily life, as important as it was for rural communities to gain access to electricity a century ago,” Huffman said. “Small, remote communities, however, face unique challenges in connecting homes, farms, and businesses to this vital resource. We are proud to announce today significant funding to expand high-speed internet access in two frontier-designated Oregon counties.”
Oregon Telephone Corporation (OTC) will use the ReConnect Program grant to deploy 89 miles of fiber to serve some of the most remote areas of the continental United States. The new broadband infrastructure will provide network speeds ranging from 30 megabits per second (Mbps) to 1 gigabyte per second (Gbps). The network will allow Voice-Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and video services to be delivered to each customer.
Currently, many areas around the town of John Day lack internet service faster than 1.5 Mbps. In a public-private partnership with John Day in its capacity as the leader of the intergovernmental Grant County Digital Network Coalition, OTC is working to provide the fastest internet access to as many residents at the lowest price possible. Under the partnership, OTC will build a fiber network and deliver broadband service to residents and businesses while leasing infrastructure to John Day to provide service to public agencies.
The first new fiber route will be located northwest of John Day. It will connect the towns of Long Creek, Monument, and Spray. The second route will start at the northern edge of the town of Seneca and continue to Canyon City, just south of John Day.
Overall, this expanded fiber optic network will extend broadband across a 242-square-mile area that includes 418 households, 22 businesses, 22 farms, 3 schools, and 2 fire stations. Nearly 650 new customers can receive reliable access to high-speed internet services, improving the quality of life for those who live and work in these remote, rural communities.
In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the rules of the pilot program, called ReConnect, including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America.
USDA received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in financing across all three ReConnect Program funding products: 100 percent loans, 100 percent grants, and loan-grant combinations. USDA is reviewing applications and announcing approved projects on a rolling basis. Additional investments in all three categories will be made in the coming weeks. Funding is contingent upon the recipients meeting the terms of the loan and grant agreements.
These grants, loans, and combination funds enable the Federal Government to partner with the private sector and rural communities to build modern broadband infrastructure in areas with insufficient internet service. Insufficient service is defined as connection speeds of less than 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload.
USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and healthcare; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. Learn more at www.rd.usda.gov/or.