Rural broadband grant applications available

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting applications for up to $1.15 billion in loans and grants to help people in rural areas get access to high-speed internet.

The applications became available Nov. 24. According to a news release issued by U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, funding for this round of the grant program was announced during a Quad Cities area stop by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. 

“After joining Secretary Vilsack in Geneseo last month to announce $1.15 billion in federal grants and loans to improve rural broadband, I’m thrilled that applications are now open for folks in Illinois and across the country,” she said. “This funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program, combined with nearly $2 billion recently signed into law through the bipartisan infrastructure bill, will help ensure that no family in rural America remains without access to high-speed internet.” 

“High-speed internet is the new electricity,” Mr. Vilsack said in a separate news release. “It must be reliable, affordable and available to everyone.” The funding from both the USDA and the new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act “will go a long way toward reaching this goal in rural America,“ he added.

The former Iowa governor said “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.”

Eligible applicants are state, local or territory governments; corporations; Native American Tribes; limited liability companies; and cooperative organizations. 

The USDA funding is available for projects that serve rural areas where at least 90% 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. 

Applications must be submitted through USDA Rural Development’s online application system on the ReConnect webpage. For more information, see the Oct. 22, 2021, Federal Register

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