USDA seeks applications to increase broadband access in unserved areas
Applications will be accepted through May 14 for grants ranging from $100,000 to $3 million
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting applications for grants to fund broadband infrastructure projects in unserved rural communities.
“E-connectivity is essential to the economic vitality and quality of life in rural communities,” said Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett. “Investing in broadband can strengthen rural economic growth and improve critical access to jobs, education, health care and social services.”
USDA is accepting applications through May 14 in the Community Connect program. Webinar presentations will be held April 5 from 1 – 2 p.m. and April 10 from 1 – 2 p.m. to provide more information and allow those interested to ask questions regarding the Community Connect Grant Program. Grants from $100,000 to $3 million are available to state and local governments, federally-recognized tribes, nonprofits and for-profit corporations. Applicants must be able to provide a 15 percent match on the desired grant amount.
USDA requires awardees offer free broadband service to all critical community facilities in their proposed service areas for two years and provide a community center with free broadband service for two years. The funds must also be used to provide broadband service at a minimum rate-of-data transmission of 25 megabits downstream and 3 megabits upstream, which is the speed benchmark that the Federal Communications Commission has officially adopted for broadband connectivity.
Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, established by President Donald Trump last April. The Task Force was formed to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. Thirty other recommendations were made by the Task Force, which can be viewed in the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity.
Examples of past Community Connect Grant successes include:
Alaska’s Matanuska Telephone Association used a Community Connect grant to expand a fiber network. As a result, web-based content has been developed for an array of local businesses.
Tennessee’s North Central Telephone Cooperative (NCTC) received a grant to offer gigabyte speed internet at reasonable rates. Today, the company provides e-connectivity services such as high-speed broadband, television, security and cloud systems. NCTC was recognized nationally in 2014 when it received a Smart Rural Community Showcase Award.
In North Dakota, the BEK Communications Cooperative used a Community Connect grant to install 462 miles of fiber. The new internet service has many uses, such as enabling Barnes County students to take online courses to qualify for college credits.