On Aug. 21, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced another $667 million in grants and loans to connect thousands of rural residents, farmers and business owners in 22 states for reliable and affordable high-speed internet through the ReConnect Program. This investment is funded by President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Connecting homes and businesses across the U.S. to high speed internet is a central part of Biden’s Investing in America agenda to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. This agenda is helping to transform our country for the better – reaching communities in every corner of the U.S., including those that have too often been left behind.

“The big picture – when we invest in ourselves and our infrastructure, there’s nothing we can’t do,” said Mitch Landrieu, senior advisor to President Biden, during an announcement regarding this new round of funding. “We’re building a better America by making sure our investments reach everybody, including rural America. The internet is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

Landrieu said that necessity comes with economic and educational opportunities, a closing of the rural healthcare gap, allows farmers to engage in precision agriculture and much more.

“The ReConnect program is not leaving anybody behind,” he added. “It’s part of a $90 billion investment in America’s infrastructure. This funding went to every single state in the country. It’s not only expanding access to broadband internet but ensuring it’s affordable.”

The high speed internet investments announced recently are part of the fourth funding round of ReConnect, part of the administration’s Internet for All initiative to connect everyone in America to high speed internet by 2030. This round included $667 million in USDA investments in 22 states, including Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

An example of a project in the Country Folks Grower region is in North Carolina, where Star Telephone Membership Corporation is receiving a $24.9 million grant to benefit 2,674 people, 84 businesses, 117 farms and four educational facilities in Bladen, Columbus and Sampson counties.

In Minnesota, the Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company will be receiving a nearly $13.7 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network for high speed internet. This network will benefit a total of 3,839 people, 127 businesses, 679 farms and one educational facility in Nobles County.

“Keeping the people of rural America connected with reliable, high speed internet brings new and innovative ideas to the rest of our country and creates good-paying jobs along the way,” Vilsack said. “Thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are connecting rural communities to a global marketplace. These investments will support economic growth and prosperity for generations to come.

“The reality is that we have faced some challenging times in rural places and this is a president who strongly believes in investing in all parts of our country,” Vilsack continued. “This funding helps USDA expand or improve high speed internet.”

The improvement includes both better upload and download speeds. Vilsack all of these grants are making a commitment to upload/download speeds of over 100 mbps, regardless of how rural the communities may be.

Thus far, $3.1 billion has been invested in 179 ReConnect projects for over 430,000 rural Americans. An additional $260 million will be invested over the next several months, according to Vilsack.

“This administration is concerned with creating more and new and better markets for farmers,” he said. He noted that climate-smart ag requires a lot of technology that “absolutely will rely on high speed internet access.” A farmer’s ability to market and to advertise is also somewhat dependent on their ability to use the internet, he added.

A full list of projects from the Aug. 21 announcement is available at this link.

by Courtney Llewellyn