U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the Department has begun accepting applications for up to $1.15 billion in loans and grants to help people in rural areas get access to high-speed internet. This announcement comes on the heels of the recently enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides another nearly $2 billion in additional funding for the ReConnect program. USDA anticipates issuing a new Notice of Funding Opportunity to make the additional funds in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law available in 2022.
“High-speed internet is the new electricity,” Vilsack said. “It must be reliable, affordable, and available to everyone. The funding USDA is making available – through the current application process and through the nearly $2 billion in additional funding that will be provided for this program by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – will go a long way toward reaching this goal in rural America. These are just two of the latest of many historic infrastructure investments the Biden-Harris Administration is making. Expanding broadband availability in rural areas will help create jobs, help farmers use precision agriculture technologies, expand access to health care and educational services, and create economic opportunities for millions of rural Americans across the country.”
USDA is making $1.15 billion in funding available through the ReConnect Program. Eligible applicants are state, local, or territory governments; corporations; Native American Tribes; limited liability companies, and cooperative organizations.
This funding, which does not include the nearly $2 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is available for projects that serve rural areas where at least 90 percent of the households lack broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 20 Mbps (upload). USDA will give funding priority to projects that will serve people in low-density rural areas and areas lacking internet access services at speeds of at least 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload).
Applicants must commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to every location in a proposed service area at the same time. In making funding decisions, USDA will also consider the economic needs of the community to be served; the extent to which a provider will offer affordable service options; a project’s commitment to strong labor standards; and whether a project is serving Tribal lands or is submitted by a local government, Tribal government, non-profit or cooperative.