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August 22, 2023
The US Department of Agriculture has allocated a further $671 million in grants and loans for the provision of high-speed broadband connectivity to rural areas.
The cash will enable small telecoms companies, ISPs and county authorities boost access to fast Internet – mainly, but not exclusively, via fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) – for rural residents, business owners and farmers in difficult-to-reach areas.
The funding is a continuation of the fourth round of the ReConnect Program, which was set up to support the construction, improvement of acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide access to decent broadband in rural communities. The first round of funding allocations took place in 2019 and, according to the Department of Agriculture, it has allocated a total of $4.53 billion to date in under ReConnect, including $1.44 billion announced in the fourth round.
This latest award differs slightly from the $714 million allocation announced in June in that the winning projects do not all centre on FTTP.
That said, only one of the 37 projects to successfully apply for financial support does not include a reference to fibre: Bamberg County in South Carolina was awarded a $12 million loan for the rollout of a fixed wireless network to provide high-speed Internet to – potentially – 5,241 people, 254 businesses, 60 farms and 24 educational facilities. One project in Alaska foresees the creation of a hybrid fibre-coax and fixed wireless network, while a further five consist of various combinations of hybrid fibre-coax, FTTP and fixed wireless.
Together, those projects amount to $667 million in funding. There is a separate project under the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan & Loan Guarantee Program that aims to deploy 16 miles of fibre to provide high-speed internet access to 800 households and 10 businesses in the city of Union, Washington. The $3.81 million loan obtained by Hood Canal Telephone Co for that purpose brings the government’s total spend to $671.2 million.
“Keeping the people of rural America connected with reliable, high-speed internet brings new and innovative ideas to the rest of our country and creates good-paying jobs along the way,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a standard, carefully-worded comment accompanying the announcement. “Thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are connecting rural communities to a global marketplace. These investments will support economic growth and prosperity for generations to come.”
In this iteration of funding allocation, Alaska comes out on top, in financial terms, at least. In all, the state had three projects approved worth the best part of $100 million, or $99.85 million, to be precise.
The aforementioned hybrid fibre-coax and fixed wireless network will benefit 28 people, eight businesses and one educational facility in the Hoonah-Angoon Census Area in Alaska and secured a grant of $35 million, as did an FTTP network covering a much greater population in the Bethel and Kusilvak Census Areas, while the same two census areas also picked up a separate FTTP grant worth a shade under $30 million.
In all, the projects are spread across 22 states and the Marshall Islands. Alaska was home to the largest grants under this stage of the programme, both collectively and individually, while the largest loan – at just over $42 million – went to an Aptitude Internet project to roll out FTTP to half a dozen counties in Missouri.
These grants and loans naturally have the biggest impact in very small communities, but they form part of a bigger picture that shows the US government continuing to plough cash into spreading, in the main, fibre-based Internet.
Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.
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