The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a $401 million investment to provide high-speed internet access to rural communities in the country.
The investment will benefit 31,000 rural residents in 11 states—Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, and Texas—according to a July 28 USDA press release.
As part of the program, Uprise LLC will receive a grant of $27.1 million to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network in Nevada’s Pershing County that will connect seven public schools, 22 farms, 130 businesses, and 4,884 people to high-speed internet.
The Midvale Telephone Company will receive a $10.6 million loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-home network. This is expected to help individuals and businesses access high-speed internet in multiple counties in Idaho and Arizona.
A grant of $12 million will be awarded to the Arkansas Telephone Company Inc. for deploying a fiber-to-the-premises network in Van Buren and Searcy counties.
“From the farm to the school, from households to international markets, connectivity drives positive change in our communities. The investments I am announcing today will help 31,000 people and businesses in large and diverse regions across the country access new and critical opportunities,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
The $401 million initiative includes investments from the ReConnect Program and an award funded through the USDA’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee program.
The ReConnect program specifically aims to make broadband service available in rural areas. It sets aside grants of up to $350 million for tribal governments and socially vulnerable communities, as well as millions more in other grants and loans.
Rural America has lower broadband access than citizens residing in urban areas. According to data from the American Community Survey conducted between 2015 and 2019, while 85 percent of households in the largest metropolitan areas had broadband access, only 75 percent of homes in the most rural areas had broadband. In 287 of the nation’s most rural counties, less than 70 percent reported high-speed internet access.
A Pew Research Center survey, conducted between Jan. 25 and Feb. 8, 2021, also reveals similar numbers, with only 72 percent of rural Americans admitting to having a broadband connection at home.
There also are issues with the service quality of providers. Frontier Communications, for example, was fined in May for failing to provide customers with internet speeds that had been promised. Frontier has 1.3 million customers across 25 American states, with many of them in rural areas.
High-speed broadband can be a key factor to greater prosperity in rural America. According to the USDA, the proper use of digital agriculture technologies can add at least $47 billion in gross benefit to the U.S. economy. But one-third of this potential benefit is dependent on rural broadband connectivity.