Today, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach announced that USDA has invested $5.7 million in a high-speed broadband infrastructure project that will create or improve rural e-Connectivity in parts of three Nebraska counties. The investment is expected to connect 489 rural households, 24 farms and eight businesses to high-speed broadband internet in unserved portions of Madison, Wayne and Pierce counties. This is one of many funding announcements in the first round of USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program investments.
“From my experience on my family’s farm to my time as Nebraska’s Director of Agriculture, I know first-hand that high-speed broadband internet connectivity is essential to making agricultural businesses more efficient and profitable,” Ibach said. “While serving the state of Nebraska, I saw the potential impact that high-speed broadband would have not only for agricultural producers, but for everyone in our community. It is a privilege to now serve at USDA, under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Perdue, and see the Administration make the deployment of this critical infrastructure in rural America a top priority.”
Eastern Nebraska Telephone Company will use a $5.7 million ReConnect Program grant to construct 221 miles of fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband infrastructure. The company will use matching funds of $1.9 million to complete the project, for a total project cost of $7.6 million. Eastern is a certificated local exchange carrier providing broadband service to its eight exchanges in eastern Nebraska. The company, headquartered in Blair, Neb., provides long-distance and wireline voice to all its exchange areas and high-speed broadband service to select areas.
In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, Secretary Perdue announced the rules of the 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 funding across all three ReConnect Program funding products: 100 percent loan, 100 percent grant, 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.
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 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload.
In December 2019, Agriculture Secretary Perdue announced USDA will be making available an additional $550 million in ReConnect funding in 2020. USDA will make available up to $200 million for grants, up to $200 million for 50/50 grant/loan combinations, and up to $200 million for low-interest loans. The application window for this round of funding will open Jan. 31, 2020. Applications for all funding products will be accepted in the same application window, which will close no later than March 16, 2020.
A full description of 2020 ReConnect Pilot Program funding is available on page 67913 of the Dec. 12, 2019, Federal Register (PDF, 336 KB). To learn more about eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements, visit www.usda.gov/reconnect.
In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force. To view the report in its entirety, please view the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB). In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, please view the Rural Prosperity infographic (PDF, 190 KB).
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 health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.
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