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Rural Broadband: USDA Accepting Applications for the ReConnect Program

Posted on December 2, 2021 by Dene Westbrook

U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the Department has begun accepting applications for up to $1.15 billion in loans and grants to help people in rural areas get access to high-speed internet. This announcement comes on the heels of the recently enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides another nearly $2 billion in additional funding for the ReConnect program. USDA anticipates issuing a new Notice of Funding Opportunity to make the additional funds in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law available in 2022.

Background: ReConnect Program

USDA is making $1.15 billion in funding available through the ReConnect Program. Eligible applicants are state, local or territory governments; corporations; Native American Tribes; limited liability companies and cooperative organizations.

This funding, which does not include the nearly $2 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is available for projects that serve rural areas where at least 90 percent 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 for funding must be submitted through USDA Rural Development’s online application system on the ReConnect webpage. For additional information, see the Oct. 25, 2021, Federal Register.

John LaMacchia is the Assistant Director of State and Federal Affairs for the League handling transportation, infrastructure, energy and environment issues. He can be reached at jlamacchia@mml.org or 517-908-0303.

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