Feds announce another $759 million to bolster rural internet access
Federal officials have announced another $759 million in funding to expand and bolster rural high-speed internet access, including for states and tribal members in the Mountain West.
This is the third round of funding this year to build out internet access in rural areas through the federal ReConnect Loan and Grant Program. In this latest round, 88% is in the form of grants while 12% will be used for loans.
It finances projects in 24 states, three territories and four tribal nations. In the Mountain West, that includes projects in Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Wyoming and the Navajo Nation.
Specifically, the Navajo Nation project garnered $7.1 million.
According to White House advisor Mitch Landrieu, that project will “connect nearly 5,000 people, 27 businesses, 10 educational facilities and two farms in Navajo country in Arizona. Navajo Tribal Utility Company will make high-speed internet affordable on the Navajo Nation Reservation and the communities in Navajo County, Arizona.”
Another project in the Mountain West includes $18.7 million going to the Eastern Slope Rural Telephone Association to expand its fiber network.
In a press release, federal officials said it will connect “thousands of people, 898 farms, 110 businesses and 17 educational facilities to high-speed internet in Adams, Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Crowley, Elbert, Kiowa, Kit Carson, Lincoln and Washington counties.”
It will also allegedly make high-speed internet affordable by participating in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said funding these kinds of projects is pivotal for the future of rural America.
“Whether it’s distance learning opportunities for our students, telemedicine for our hospitals, doctors, market development for our small businesses, or precision agriculture for our farmers, the internet, high-speed internet, is absolutely essential,” he said.
Vilsack recently visited Lovelock, Nevada, which previously received funding. He said they’re expanding broadband to improve first responder services, enhance tourism opportunities and assist students in high school earning college credits online.
“This project, as well as all of the projects we’re funding, will help create construction jobs. In this particular case, roughly 100 Native Americans through local tribes were benefited from this; 6,000 residents of communities across the region; 130 businesses; seven educational institutions and three healthcare centers.”
“And I will tell you that people were just absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to actually now finally have high-speed internet,” he added.
Vilsack said the total funding going through the federal ReConnect program now totals $1.6 billion for this year.
Large chunks of that funding come from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, including about 60% of the money for this round.
Vilsack said the next round will rely entirely on that legislation’s funding, while the round after that will rely on “appropriated resources in our regular budgeting process.”
Applications are being accepted for the next round of ReConnect funding through November 2nd. They’re particularly looking for applications to help disadvantaged communities recover economically from the pandemic.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.