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USDA announces $1 billion for rural broadband

Today USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the agency is accepting applications for ReConnect Program loans and grants to expand access to high-speed internet in rural communities.

The department is making more than $1 billion available, funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

“Ensuring that the people of rural America are connected with reliable, high-speed internet brings new and innovative ideas to the rest of our country, and it remains a core priority for President Biden,” Vilsack says. “That’s why high-speed internet is an important part of USDA Rural Development’s work with rural communities. Reliable high-speed internet opens the world’s marketplace to rural business owners. It enables them to expand their businesses and give more jobs and opportunities to people in their own community.”

Available funds include $700 million for grants, $150 million for loans, and $300 million for loan/grant combinations. 

The deadline to apply is November 2. 

To be eligible for funding, applicants must serve an area where high-speed internet service is not available at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 20 Mbps (upload). The applicant must also commit to building facilities capable of providing high-speed internet service at speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to every location in its proposed service area.

This is the fourth round of funding for the ReConnect Program. For this round the agency is allowing applicants to serve areas where at least 50% of households lack sufficient access to high-speed internet. They also added a funding category for projects where 90% of households lack sufficient access to high-speed internet. For applications submitted under this category, no matching funds will be required. They are also waiving the matching funds requirement for Alaska Native corporations, tribal governments, projects proposing to provide service in colonias, projects proposing to serve persistent poverty counties, and projects proposing to provide service in socially vulnerable communities.

Additionally, to help rural households afford internet service, all awardees under this funding round are required to apply to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). ACP offers a discount of up to $30 per month towards internet service to qualifying low-income households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying tribal lands. 

Through the first three rounds of the program, USDA invested a total of $1.8 billion in ReConnect. 

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