USDA Providing $85M In Grants & Loans To Support Rural Broadband

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture might not be the first federal agency that pops into your head when thinking about broaband Internet connectivity, but this week the USDA announced a total of $85 million in loans and grants that it hopes will help farmers and other rural Americans bridge the digital divide.

Most of the distributions announced yesterday by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will take the form of loans, like the $12.63 million being loaned to Garden Valley Telephone in Minnesota. This money is to be spent on upgrades for rural customers’ telecom and data connections.

Meanwhile, South Carolina’s FTC Communications will receive a $12.38 million loan to upgrade their wireless telecommunications network to LTE.

The largest loan announced this week is $29.95 million going to the Triangle Telephone Cooperative Association in Montana to increase speed and the quality of service for their rural subscribers.

USDA also announced a number of smaller grants around the country, like the $1.4 million for the Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative in Alaska to provide Point Hope subscribers with high-speed Internet service and prepare the network for an undersea fiber connection currently planned for construction within the next two years.

In Minnesota, the Northeast Service Cooperative will receive a pair of $3 million grants for two projects to provide broadband service to subscribers on the Fond du Lac Reservation. NESC will partner with the Fond du Lac Band of Superior Chippewa.

Oklahoma’s @Link Services will receive nearly $1.5 million to provide high-speed broadband to homes, businesses and critical community facilities in parts of Seminole County.

Virginia’s Scott County Telephone Cooperative will receive $2.1 million to build a broadband network with one gigabyte of bandwidth for 540 locations in Dickenson County.

“Broadband is fundamental to expanding economic opportunity and job creation in rural areas, and it is as vital to rural America’s future today as electricity was when USDA began bringing power to rural America 80 years ago,” said Vilsack in a statement. “The investments USDA is making today will deliver broadband to rural communities that are currently without high-speed internet service, or whose infrastructure needs to be upgraded. Improved connectivity means these communities can offer robust business services, expand access to health care and improve the quality of education in their schools, creating a sustainable and dynamic future those who live and work in rural America.”

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