Millions in loans, grants available for broadband infrastructure

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WASHINGTON (CBS19 NEWS) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture is offering millions of dollars in loans and grants to help build the broadband infrastructure of rural America.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the $600 million, which is available for telecommunications companies, rural electric cooperatives and utilities, Internet Service providers, and municipalities that apply through the ReConnection Program.

The money for this pilot program was appropriated as part of the fiscal year 2018 budget by Congress, with USDA Rural Development being the primary agency delivering it.

“High-speed Internet e-connectivity is a necessary, not an amenity, vital for quality f life and economic opportunity, so we hope that today rural communities kick off their rural broadband project planning,” said Perdue. “Under the leadership of President [Donald] Trump, USDA has worked to understand the true needs of rural communities facing this challenge so we can be strong partners to create high-speed, reliable broadband e-connectivity.”

According to a release, about $200 million is being made available for grants, with applications due by April 29.

Another $200 million will be available for loan and grant combinations, with applications due by May 29.

The final $200 million will be dispersed at low-interest loans, for which applications will be due by June 28.

The release says projects funded through this initiative must need to serve communities of fewer than 20,000 people who have no current broadband service or where service is slower 10 megabits per second download and one mbps upload.

Projects that receive funding will need to create access speeds of at least 25 mbps upload and three mbps download, with priority awarded to projects that propose to deliver higher-capacity connections to rural homes and businesses, including farms.

The USDA wants to stretch the funding as far as possible by also leveraging existing networks and systems without overbuilding existing services.

Projects will be evaluated on several criteria, including connecting agricultural production and marketing, e-commerce, health care and education facilities.

The USDA has previously conducted research that found high-capacity broadband is critical to all aspects of rural prosperity by helping attract and grow businesses, retain and develop local talent, and maintain quality of life.

The federal agency wants to help potential applications by hosting a series of webinars and regional workshops through the ReConnect Program. Information on those can be found at the first link in the Related Links box.

For more information on a report into the legislative, regulatory and policy changes to promote agriculture and rural prosperity, click on the second and third links. And more information on the USDA Rural Development, click on the last link.

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