Broadband projects in 21 states get USDA financing

The USDA has awarded $401 million in grants and loans to 21 projects in 11 states, from Alaska to Texas, to provide residents and businesses with access to high-speed internet service, announced the Biden administration on Thursday.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a White House briefing that additional awards through the ReConnect Program would be made later this year.

The investments would benefit 31,000 individuals as well as businesses and schools, said Vilsack. The largest grant, $34.9 million, will go to the Bristol Bay Telephone Cooperative to deploy a fiber-optic network in the Bristol Bay area of southwestern Alaska.

The largest loan was $44.9 million to upgrade 13 Valley Telephone Cooperative phone exchanges and install fiber-optic lines in the co-op’s service area in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.

High-speed internet is “the gateway to life-saving and life-changing technology,” said Mitch Landrieu, White House infrastructure coordinator.

Twenty of the 21 projects received funds through the USDA’s ReConnect Program, which focuses on improving internet speeds in areas with inadequate service.

Some $1.5 billion in loans and grants will be distributed during the ongoing third round of ReConnect awards, said Vilsack.

The loan to the Valley Telephone Cooperative was made through the USDA’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans and Loan Guarantee program.

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