The U.S. Department of Agriculture this morning announced that it is opening a series of filing windows for its new Rural e-Connect (ReConnect) pilot program. The program commits $600 million toward connecting unserved rural areas with broadband at speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.
“High-speed internet e-Connectivity is a necessity, not an amenity, vital for quality of life and economic opportunity, so we hope that today rural communities kick off their rural broadband project planning,” Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.
USDA plans to distribute program funding in three forms, with $200 million available for each:
- The filing deadline for ReConnect grant applications will be April 29, 2019.
- The deadline for proposed loan/grant combinations will be May 29.
- The deadline for low-interest loan applications will be June 28.
USDA says it will publish a document with further filing information on Feb. 22. In addition, the department has just opened an online portal with complete information about the program.
Organizations including NTCA, The Rural Broadband Association and NRECA have assisted USDA in developing the program by participating in a series of “listening sessions” in various locations in the United States throughout the year.
“NTCA has been grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse group of public and private stakeholders in the lead up to today’s exciting announcement,” NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield said in a statement. “We hope this program can be a critical component of delivering on [broadband’s] value.”
“Secretary Perdue’s announcement lays the groundwork for an improved approach to making broadband a reality across rural America,” said NRECA CEO James Matheson. “This pilot program, and the strong broadband provisions included in the 2018 Farm Bill, highlight a much-needed shift in federal policy to make rural broadband a possibility for the estimated 23 million Americans who lack it.”
Congress earlier this week passed a Farm Bill that would include additional programs to promote rural broadband. The bill currently is awaiting a signature from President Trump.