USDA awards more than $100 million for broadband access in rural communities

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22--USDA announced today that 18 telecommunication recipients will share more than $103 million in funding for 23 projects to provide broadband services to rural communities.

Rural Utilities Services Administrator Jonathan Adelstein said that rural areas continue to lag behind urban parts of the country in broadband access. He said some of the reasons for this include low population density, rugged terrain or it's too costly for telecommunication providers to provide service.

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“You have fewer customers for every line of fiber or for every wireless tower,” he said. “It's difficult for businesses to make a case for investing in those areas.”

Adelstein said each project has three years to be completed and that together, they will bring broadband to an estimated seven million people. Providing economic and educational opportunities are important to these areas, he said, as well as the construction and labor jobs the projects will provide. Another reason Adelstein cited for providing broadband access is that internet access is a necessity for young people to stay and succeed economically in rural areas. 

The Community Connect program provides broadband access to residents in remote areas and low-income communities, where they otherwise would not receive any service. Of the Community Connect grants announced today, seven grants will provide broadband to communities that are plagued by persistent poverty. This year, the Karuk Tribe in Orleans, Calif., will receive a Community Connect grant to provide Internet services to 570 tribal members in a mountainous region of Northern California.

Community Connect funds can be used to construct, acquire or lease facilities to deploy broadband to community facilities such as schools and public safety buildings, as well as residents and businesses in the community. Each project requires a matching contribution and must serve an area where broadband is not available. The grantee must agree to provide local community centers in the selected towns with at least 10 computers which are accessible free for two years. 

In addition to the Community Connect grants, Secretary Vilsack announced $90 million in loan funding for five broadband infrastructure projects. The Dubois Telephone Exchange, for example, is receiving more than $11 million in loans to provide broadband to businesses and residents in Wyoming's Upper Wind River country and Little Snake River Valley.

The infrastructure loans announced today are in addition to $192 million in loans Secretary Vilsack announced on July 27, 2011, through USDA Rural Development's Telecommunications Infrastructure Program.

The states that will benefit from boradband funding are: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The complete list of awardees is available here.


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