USDA announces another $759 million of grants and loans for rural internet

By: - October 27, 2022 4:00 am

Rural broadband has been a top priority of state and federal officials. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding grants and loans that total about $759 million to 49 high-speed internet projects in 24 states and in other territories, the department announced Thursday.

The total includes about $5.6 million for two projects in Iowa.

The federal funding is part of the department’s ReConnect Program and is partially funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The program seeks to boost broadband access — primarily in rural areas — to download speeds of 100 megabits per second.

“This really is critically important to the future of rural America,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said during a call with reporters. “Whether it’s distance-learning opportunities for our students, telemedicine for hospitals, doctors, market development for our small businesses or precision agriculture for our farmers, the internet — high-speed internet — is absolutely essential.”

About $668 million of the new funding is grants, with loans totaling about $91 million. It was the third such ReConnect announcement this year and is the largest so far. Another announcement is expected later this year and one in 2023, Vilsack said.

So far, the grant and loan awards have totaled about $1.6 billion.

This week’s awards include two Iowa projects:

Hamilton County: Complete Communication Services Corp. will get a $3.8 million loan to build a fiber network to connect 2,827 people, 77 businesses, five farms and three educational facilities.

Washington County: Kalona Cooperative Telephone Company will get about $1.8 million — half of it a loan and half a grant — to build a fiber network to connect 463 people, 59 farms and 11 businesses.

The largest total award is a $36 million loan to Public Service Telephone Company for a fiber project in seven Georgia counties that would connect 21,289 people, 569 businesses, 323 farms and 29 educational facilities.

The largest grants announced Thursday were:

— Nearly $35 million for a southwest New Mexico fiber project.
— Nearly $35 million for northern Michigan.
— Nearly $35 million for a fiber network in the Republic of Palau.
— Nearly $30 million for Guam.
— More than $30 million for central Alaska.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.