The USDA’s Rural Development Department has announced the fourth round of its ReConnect program, which will offer more than $1 billion to expand broadband access in rural America and will begin accepting applications in September.
The new round will provide up to $150 million in loans, double the amount for loan-grant combinations, and another $700 million in grants.
Calling it the “Summer of High Speed Internet,” Undersecretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small said the Round 4 announcement came after the program announced the first batch of Round 3 recipients last week. More awards will be announced throughout the month.
“The USDA’s ReConnect program is helping to bridge this digital divide that we see between those who have high-speed Internet and those who don’t currently,” Torres Small told reporters Thursday.
Round 4 makes some changes to increase funding availability for areas with the greatest need, Laurel Leverier, assistant administrator for the USDA’s Rural Community Service, said on the same call.
“We have added a funding category for projects where 90% of households do not have sufficient access to high-speed internet,” she said. “These applicants under this category will not be required to provide a matching fund.”
Matching funds are also waived for Alaska Native corporations and tribal governments, and for projects proposed to serve counties with persistent poverty or socially vulnerable communities.
In an interview with Agro-Pulse News last week, Torres Small said interest in the ReConnect program is high.
“People are interested, they’re engaged, and we’re ready to start investing in rural America,” she said.
With ReConnect already up and running, she said the administration has been able to add funding and get money to unserved and underserved areas more quickly.
In Round 4, all projects must be part of the Affordable Connection Program, which offers low-income consumers a $30 discount on their internet service bill. This discount is $75 for residents of tribal lands.
Torres Small said she saw a difference in the program on a recent trip to Virginia.
“The farmer came up and thanked me for the speed increase in ReConnect Round 3 because it’s so important to ensure the accuracy of the produce in the field,” she said.
The ReConnect projects must provide 100 Mbps internet speeds for both upload and download, which Torres Small says is necessary for rural residents to take full advantage of all the internet has to offer.
The new round of applications will be open from September 6 to November 2
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https://www.agri-pulse.com/articles/18082-rural-development-rolls-new-reconnect-round-to-expand-broadband Rural Development launches new ReConnect round to expand broadband