USDA invests $48M in broadband for rural Virginia Communities

USDA invests $48M in broadband for rural Virginia Communities
Rural Virginia (FILE) (Source: WVIR)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Thousands of Virginians who live in rural areas will soon have access to high-speed internet.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced early Thursday, January 9, that it is investing $48 million to expand broadband internet in the commonwealth. The department says this investment will bring high-speed internet to an area covering nearly 1,900 square miles, including education facilities, a health care center, and more than 22,600 homes.

The investment is part of the USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program. The program helps build or improve facilities needed to bring internet service to rural areas that did not previously have reliable home access by providing a combination of grants and loans.

01/09/2020 Release from the United States Department of Agriculture:

BEDFORD, Va., Jan. 9, 2020 – Today, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Bette Brand announced USDA has invested $48 million in high-speed broadband infrastructure for more than 22,600 rural households in Virginia. This is one of many funding announcements in the first round of USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program investments.

“High-speed broadband internet connectivity, or e-Connectivity, is essential to economic development, quality of life and overall prosperity in any community,” Brand said. “Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Perdue, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural communities deploying this essential infrastructure, because when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

Wilkes Telephone Membership Corporation Inc. will use a $48 million ReConnect Program loan to construct a fiber-to-the-premises network encompassing 1,847 square miles. The service area is expected to reach 22,604 households, 19 educational facilities, eight critical community facilities and one health care center in Halifax, Charlotte, Lunenberg, Mecklenburg, Brunswick, King and Queen, Bedford and Pittsylvania counties.

Background:

In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, Secretary Perdue announced the rules of the program, called “ReConnect,” including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America. USDA received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding across all three ReConnect Program funding products: 100 percent loan, 100 percent grant, and loan-grant combinations. USDA is reviewing applications and announcing approved projects on a rolling basis. Additional investments in all three categories will be made in the coming weeks.

These grants, loans and combination funds enable the federal government to partner with the private sector and rural communities to build modern broadband infrastructure in areas with insufficient internet service. Insufficient service is defined as connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload.

In December 2019, Agriculture Secretary Perdue announced USDA will be making available an additional $550 million in ReConnect funding in 2020. USDA will make available up to $200 million for grants, up to $200 million for 50/50 grant/loan combinations, and up to $200 million for low-interest loans. The application window for this round of funding will open Jan. 31, 2020. Applications for all funding products will be accepted in the same application window, which will close no later than March 16, 2020.

A full description of 2020 ReConnect Pilot Program funding is available on page 67913 of the Dec. 12, 2019, Federal Register (PDF, 336 KB). To learn more about eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements, visit www.usda.gov/reconnect.

In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force. To view the report in its entirety, please view the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB). In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, please view the Rural Prosperity infographic (PDF, 190 KB).

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.

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