Connecting state and local government leaders
The Agriculture Department says the grants and loans will help to improve service for 31,000 customers.
The Agriculture Department on Thursday announced $401 million in loans and grants to expand and improve high-speed internet for 31,000 rural homes and businesses in 11 states.
The money will go to broadband providers through the department’s ReConnect program, which is aimed at upgrading internet service in communities where it’s lacking or slow. The new round of funding will go to parts of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a call with reporters that only about 72% of rural residents have access to high-speed internet. Among those in areas with persistent poverty, that figure is even lower, around 63%.
Increasing high-speed internet will have a number of benefits for rural areas, he said, including helping farmers and ranchers to use their land more efficiently, allowing schools that cannot afford Advanced Placement teachers to connect to classes in other districts, and giving rural businesses access to a much broader customer base.
“You now have access to the entire world – a global market if you will,” Vilsack said.
“For too long, rural communities have been left out and left behind,” White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu said during the call.
Vilsack noted that more money is on the way for rural areas.
His department plans to announce other ReConnect awards later this summer, and then make available part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s $65 billion for high-speed broadband in the fall. That money will be handed out early next year.
“We’ll see a constant stream of funding being announced from now to the beginning of 2023,” Vilsack said.
One of the awards announced Thursday is a $27.1 million grant to Uprise LLC to build a high-speed internet network in Pershing County, Nevada and the Lovelock Indian Colony that will connect 4,884 people, 130 businesses, 22 farms, and seven public schools.
Elsewhere, Arizona’s Midvale Telephone Company will receive a $10.6 million loan to build high-speed networks in Arizona and Idaho. The networks will serve 455 people, 39 businesses and 69 farms in areas across the two states.
In addition to the ReConnect grants and loans, the department also announced a $45 million loan to the Valley Telephone Cooperative to lay 1,317 miles of buried fiber-optic cable in Arizona and New Mexico.
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty.