The USDA is accepting applications for loans and grants to help rural residents access high-speed internet.
Minnesota Democrats U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith explain the funding was awarded through the USDA’s ReConnect program, which supports high-speed broadband infrastructure projects to improve connectivity for rural communities.
Eligible applicants are state, local or territory governments; corporations; Native American tribes; limited liability companies; and cooperative organizations. ReConnect funding 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 (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 certain speeds.
Klobuchar, co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, notes that currently, 16 percent of Minnesota households lack broadband at baseline speeds. She says the ReConnect program gives folks in rural Midwest states the resources needed to access high-speed internet.
“I strongly encourage those that are eligible to apply,” Klobuchar says.
Smith adds COVID-19 has made it even more clear that reliable broadband is necessary for telehealth, distance learning, remote work and more.
“With this new funding, rural areas will be able to develop their infrastructure, and contribute to a resilient community,” she says.
Applicants must commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at certain speeds 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.
Applications for funding must be submitted through USDA Rural Development’s online application system on the ReConnect webpage: https://www.usda.gov/reconnect
This funding does not include the nearly $2 billion included in the bipartisan infrastructure law for the ReConnect program. The USDA plans to issue a new Notice of Funding Opportunity to make the additional funds in the bipartisan infrastructure law available in 2022.