WASHINGTON — The federal ReConnect program that funds the expansion of high-speed Internet access in rural areas is getting a $1 billion boost thanks to recently passed infrastructure legislation
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Friday that the USDA is accepting applications to distribute more than $1 billion in internet infrastructure to connect rural Americans to affordable high-speed internet, reliable.
“Ensuring that people in rural America are connected to reliable high-speed internet brings new and innovative ideas to the rest of our country, and it remains a key priority for President Biden,” said Vilsak. “That’s why high-speed Internet is an important part of USDA Rural Development’s work with rural communities. Reliable high-speed Internet opens up the global market for rural business owners. This allows them to grow their businesses and provide more jobs and opportunities for people in their own community.
On September 6, the USDA began accepting applications for loans, with available funds of $150 million, grants with available funds of $700 million, and combined loan/grant allocations using $300 million as part of the ReConnect program.
These funds were allocated under the Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act. Act calls for $65 billion investment to expand affordable high-speed internet to communities across the United States
The application deadline is November 2. For more information, see page 47690 of the August 4 Federal Register.
The USDA has made several enhancements to the ReConnect program for the current suite of apps. Collectively, these improvements increase the availability of financing in rural areas where residents and businesses lack access to affordable high-speed Internet. They understand:
• Allow applicants to serve areas where at least 50% of households do not have sufficient access to high-speed Internet.
•Addition of a funding category for projects where 90% of households do not have sufficient access to high-speed Internet. For applications submitted in this category, no matching funds will be required.
• Waiver of requirement for matching funds for: (a) Alaska Native corporations, (b) tribal governments, (c) projects proposing to provide settlement services, (d) projects proposing serving counties with persistent poverty and (e) projects proposing to provide service in socially vulnerable communities.
To ensure that rural households in need of internet service can afford it, all recipients of this funding round will need to apply to participate in the law’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which offers a rebate of up to 30 $ per month on Internet service to low-income households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying tribal lands.
As a result, ACP-eligible households can receive internet for free and can register and check their eligibility at GetInternet.gov.
In the first cycle of the ReConnect program, the USDA invested $656 million to create or improve high-speed Internet access for rural customers in 33 states and territories.
In the second cycle of the ReConnect program, the USDA invested $850 million to create or improve high-speed Internet access for rural customers in 37 states and territories.
To date, the USDA has announced $356 million in critical investments through the third round of ReConnect funding, for a total of $1.8 billion invested through the ReConnect program since the program’s inception. Further investments will be announced in the coming weeks.
To be eligible for ReConnect program funding, an applicant 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 constructing facilities capable of providing high-speed Internet service at speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to each location within its proposed service area.
To learn more about investment resources for rural areas, visit rd.usda.gov or contact the nearest USDA State Office of Rural Development.
Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunity, create jobs, and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans in rural areas.
This aid supports the improvement of infrastructure; Business development; lodging; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed Internet access in rural, tribal and very poor areas.