On Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it is offering up to $600 million in loans and grants to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America. Later that day, Alabama U.S. Senator Doug Jones encouraged eligible rural Alabama entities to apply for the loans to help expand their broadband infrastructure.
Telecommunication companies, rural electric cooperatives and utilities, internet service providers, and municipalities may apply for funding through USDA’s new ReConnect Program to connect rural areas that currently have insufficient broadband service. This broadband pilot program is covered through funds secured in the fiscal year 2018 budget as designated by Congress. USDA Rural Development is the primary agency delivering the program, with assistance from other federal partners.
“Today, more than ever, high-speed internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity,” said Jones. “Students rely on connectivity for their education, hospitals and health care providers use telehealth capabilities to reach rural communities, and small businesses need the internet to thrive. It provides economic opportunity, strengthens our communities and connects our workforce throughout Alabama and the nation. This USDA funding is a great opportunity to close the broadband gaps that exist in Alabama and I encourage any eligible entity in the state to apply.”
The USDA will make available approximately $200 million for grants (applications due to USDA by April 29, 2019), as well as $200 million for loan and grant combinations (applications due May 29, 2019), and $200 million for low-interest loans (applications due by June 28, 2019). To help customers with the application process, USDA is holding a series of online webinars and regional in-person workshops. The full list of upcoming public webinars and workshops can be found at the ReConnect Program’s resource portal here.