USDA Awards $103 Million for Broadband Projects
The USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) announced today that 18 recipients will receive more than $103 million in funding for 23 projects to provide broadband services to unserved and underserved rural communities. The projects fall under two USDA programs: the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan Program and the Rural Development Community Connect Program.
Of the $103 million, approximately $90 million in loan funding is set aside for five broadband infrastructure projects.
The largest infrastructure award was given to Vernon Telephone Cooperative, in Westby, Wis., which was selected for a $24 million loan to build a FTTP system in areas outside the town. Vernon also plans to make other system improvements in several area exchanges.
Also of note, the Dubois Telephone Exchange has been selected for an $11.4 million infrastructure loan to provide broadband to nearly all of the businesses and residents in Wyoming’s Upper Wind River country and Little Snake River Valley. The loan is expected to create 100 jobs and save up to 150 others.
The Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan Program funds facilities and equipment to upgrade, expand, maintain and replace rural telecommunications networks. USDA will make a $690 million investment during FY 2011 in the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan Program. This is in addition to the $3.5 billion in broadband funding RUS awarded for projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Also contained in today’s $103 million announcement are funds awarded under the USDA Rural Development Community Connect program.
The program provides grants to rural, economically challenged communities. Funds can be used to construct, acquire or lease facilities to deploy broadband to community facilities such as schools and public safety buildings, as well as residents and businesses in the community. Each project requires a matching contribution and must serve an area where broadband is not available. The grantee must agree to provide local community centers in the selected towns with at least 10 computers which are accessible free for two years.
Of the Community Connect grants being announced today, seven grants will provide broadband to communities that are plagued by persistent poverty. One of today’s successful applications is from Wichita Online, Inc., which will use a Community Connect grant to provide broadband to the rural community of Tushka Town, Okla. Rural Development’s $480,000 grant to Wichita Online Inc. will provide residents with broadband service and new opportunities for economic development.
The Karuk Tribe in Orleans, Calif., also will receive a Community Connect grant to provide Internet services to 570 tribal members in a mountainous region of Northern California.
“Without broadband, rural communities, agricultural producers and business owners face a substantial challenge,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “These loans and grants will bring the benefits of broadband, including new educational, business and public health and safety opportunities, to residents living in some of the most remote parts of our Nation.”
For a complete list of the awards, click here.