After the Department of Agriculture announced a new round of investments in rural broadband this week, the head of USDA’s Rural Development efforts says USDA is seeing more interest and increased participation in the ReConnect program. 

Speaking on this week's Agri-Pulse Newsmakers, USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small said there has been a lot of interest in the ReConnect program, with the most recent round receiving “more applications than any other round.” 

“Folks are interested, they’re engaged, and we’re ready to start investing in rural America,” said Torres Small. 

She said because ReConnect is already up and running, it has allowed the administration to add additional investments to the program and get the money to unserved and underserved areas more quickly.

The Biden administration rolled out a $401 million investment Thursday to expand internet connectivity to unserved or underserved people in rural areas across 11 states.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the rest of the funding will be released over the course of the summer as areas lacking adequate broadband are identified around the country. 

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, applauded USDA for its rollout of broadband investments, citing supply chain issues as a challenge that needs to be overcome to keep up with demand.

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“It's very, very difficult to get a lot of the really critical technology pieces — fiber optic, [customer premises equipment] — for the consumer home,” said Bloomfield, adding that USDA’s process for rollout “in a methodical way allows those stepping into broadband to be able to keep up with some of these supply chain challenges as well.”

Garrett Hawkins, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, added that “it’s not just the fiber” that’s difficult to obtain, but “labor constraints as well.”

“I hear from electric co-ops and others who are using contractors that getting the adequate labor is a real issue, and in some cases an impediment to speeding the process of getting fiber laid in some of our areas,” said Hawkins. 

Watch the full Agri-Pulse Newsmakers episode here.

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