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USDA to spend up to $1.15 billion on rural broadband

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday that the USDA would spend up to $1.15 billion to bring high-speed internet services to people living in rural communities. The money would be available in loans and grants to providers who offer service with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second in areas that lack high-speed internet.

“For too long, the ‘digital divide’ has left too many people living in rural communities behind,” Vilsack said in a statement. “As we build back better than we were before, the actions I am announcing today will go a long way toward ensuring that people who live or work in rural areas are able to tap into the benefits of broadband, including access to specialized health care, educational opportunities, and the global marketplace.”

The USDA will begin accepting applications for the loans and grants starting Nov. 24 through its ReConnect Program. USDA said applicants must serve areas without broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 20 Mbps (upload); they also must commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to every location in their proposed service area.

In making funding decisions, USDA said it will prioritize projects that will serve low-density rural areas lacking internet access services; in those areas speeds of at least 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload) must be offered.

The USDA said it will consider the economic needs of the community to be served; the extent to which a provider will offer affordable service options; a project’s commitment to strong labor standards; and whether a project is serving tribal lands or is submitted by a local government, Tribal Government, nonprofit, or co-operative.

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

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