WASHINGTON (WWLP) – U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack on September 9 announced that USDA is now accepting applications for ReConnect Program loans and grants to gain access to high-speed internet for millions of people in rural America nationwide. They are making more than $1 billion available, thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“Ensuring that the people of rural America are connected with reliable, high-speed internet brings new and innovative ideas to the rest of our country, and it remains a core priority for President Biden,” Vilsack said. “That’s why high-speed internet is an important part of USDA Rural Development’s work with rural communities. Reliable high-speed internet opens the world’s marketplace to rural business owners. It enables them to expand their businesses and give more jobs and opportunities to people in their own community.”
On Sept. 6, USDA began accepting applications for loans, with funds available up to $150 million, grants with available funds of $700 million, and combination loan/grant awards using $300 million under the ReConnect Program. These funds were allocated under the Bipartisan Infrastructure, and the law provides a $65 billion investment to expand affordable, high- speed internet across the United States.
USDA has made several improvements to the ReConnect Program for the current round of applications, which include:
- Allowing applicants to serve areas where at least 50% of households lack sufficient access to high-speed internet.
- Adding a funding category for projects where 90% of households lack sufficient access to high-speed internet. For applications submitted under this category, no matching funds will be required.
- Waiving the matching fund’s requirement for (a) Alaska Native Corporations, (b) Tribal Governments, (c) projects proposing to provide service in colonies, (d) projects proposing to serve persistent poverty counties, and (e) projects proposing to provide service in socially vulnerable communities.
All of the awardees under this funding round will be required to apply to be a part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). ACP offers a discount of up to $30 per month towards the internet to qualifying low-income households, as well as up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal Lands.
There are two different rounds of the ReConnect Program:
- In the first round of the ReConnect Program, USDA invested $656 million to create or improve high-speed internet access for rural customers across 33 states and territories.
- In the second round of the ReConnect Program, USDA invested $850 million to create or improve high-speed internet access for rural customers across 37 states and territories.