USDA announces funding for rural broadband and telecommunications infrastructure

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2014 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $190.5 million in grants and loans to make improvements in broadband and other advanced communications infrastructure in rural areas. The money will fund 25 projects in 19 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Modern telecommunications and broadband access is now as essential to the businesses and residents of rural America as electricity was in the 1930s,” Vilsack said in a press release. “USDA is committed to ensuring that rural Americans have robust broadband and telecommunications systems. The investments we are announcing today will provide broadband in areas that lack it, help rural-serving public television stations begin using digital broadcasts, and support other telecommunications infrastructure improvements."

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The funds are being provided through the Community Connect Grant program, the Public Television Digital Transition Grant program and the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan program.

Some example of the projects:

--In Arkansas, Arkwest Communications is receiving a $24 million telecommunications loan to provide voice, broadband, and internet TV service to nearly 4,000 customers and to make other system improvements.

--In Louisiana, Nexus Systems is receiving a $2.5 million Community Connect grant to provide high-speed broadband in the Powhatan area. Powhatan is sparsely populated and considered a persistent poverty area. USDA is targeting assistance to the region through its StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative.

--Public television broadcasters serving the U.S. Virgin Islands will use a $750,000 grant to replace analog mobile production and satellite equipment with a digital high-definition video recorder. Congress reauthorized the public television grant program in the 2014 Farm Bill.

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