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Broadband projects nationwide get $759 million in USDA funds

In the biggest USDA broadband announcement of the year, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Thursday that 49 projects will receive $759 million to bring high-speed internet access to rural communities from North Carolina to California. With the new funding, the USDA has awarded $1.6 billion through the third round of ReConnect grants and loans this year.

“We all know how essential the internet is to access lifesaving telemedicine, to tap into economic opportunity, to connect with loved ones, to work on precision agriculture, and so much more,” said White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu, who joined Vilsack in a briefing on the funding.

The ReConnect Program supports projects that bring or improve high-speed internet to underserved areas. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure law passed last November included $2 billion for the USDA to expand broadband service. Congress also makes an annual appropriation to the program. The White House estimated last year that more than 30 million Americans live in rural and urban areas that lack internet connections at “minimally acceptable levels.”

Among the recipients of the $759 million in funding, the USDA highlighted a $17.5 million grant to AccessOn Networks to provide broadband service to residents, businesses, farms, and schools in Halifax and Warren counties in northeastern North Carolina. Vilsack and Landrieu were scheduled to announce the nationwide funding while in the Raleigh, North Carolina, area, where AccessOn is headquartered.

Applications are due by Nov. 2 for a share of more than $1 billion in Round 4 of the ReConnect Program, said Vilsack. Round 5 will be held in 2023.

President Biden signed the infrastructure law last Nov. 15. Landrieu said that $180 billion has been disbursed so far. “We have all talked about infrastructure week, and now we’re really finally in the midst of an infrastructure decade,” he said.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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