USDA is Investing in Rural Broadband
USDA has been investing in rural telecommunications infrastructure for decades, and our current programs offer more than $700 million per year for modern broadband e-Connectivity in rural communities.
In the coming months, USDA will almost double these longstanding programs with at least $600 million of additional funds for expanding rural broadband infrastructure in unserved rural areas and tribal lands.
This new funding option was created by the United States Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, as an ambitious initiative to rebuild America’s infrastructure. Recommended by President Trump as a “first installment” of his bold proposal to restore and modernize the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, this pilot program will carry out our commitment to invest in rural America.See current programs
What is e-Connectivity
Rural e-connectivity will once again put the U.S. at the top of the world's productivity by fostering economic development, job growth, rural entrepreneurship, and innovative technologies. This will require that every part of the farm — not just the farmhouse – will be connected to the worldwide web.
To “Do Right and Feed Everyone,” American farms need reliable, real-time internet connectivity to oversee operations in the fields, manage finances, and respond to international market conditions. e-Connectivity can help farmers predict needed production inputs, increase yields, and access more customers worldwide.
Rural communities need access to telemedicine opportunities and tools to fight the opioid epidemic. Preventing uncontrolled access to erroneously-prescribed medications requires pharmacies to be connected to real-time controlled substances (opioid) registries, and rural healthcare providers demand high-speed internet for distance learning and training on how to identify and treat addiction. Moreover, remote access to addiction treatment counseling requires reliable e-Connectivity for telehealth visits.
Rural students should have the same tools for “digital homework” and self-paced learning pursuits that urban kids enjoy. Including being able to do their homework at home, rather than having to drive miles and miles to a Wi-Fi hotspot in town. Likewise, students should be able to quickly and easily download the same educational videos as urban and suburban students. Adult learners require modern connectivity to engage in university, community college, and trade and technical school degree and professional certification programs.
The global digital marketplace is ripe for e-commerce products and services from rural businesses. Modern e-Connectivity for rural America holds great promise for expansion of rural entrepreneurship, which is only possible from ubiquitous broadband e-Connectivity.
e-Connectivity for all rural Americans is a modern-day necessity.
Reliable and affordable high-speed internet e-Connectivity, or electronic connectivity, is fundamental for economic activity throughout the US. Access to high-speed internet is vital for a diverse set of industries, including agricultural production, manufacturing, mining, and forestry and acts as a catalyst for rural prosperity by enabling efficient, modern communications between rural American households, schools, and healthcare centers as well as markets and customers around the world. This is why the Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Task Force recommended e-Connectivity for all rural Americans because it is a modern-day necessity – not simply an amenity – in today’s information-driven global economy.
Unfortunately, 80 percent of the 24 million American households that do not have reliable, affordable high-speed internet are in rural areas, according to a recent report by the Federal Communications Commission.
Innovative Funding Framework
The framework outlined by Congress in this new pilot program is different than other USDA Broadband programs. USDA is currently reviewing all legal aspects and setting up administrative operations for carrying out this new pilot program (e-Connectivity Pilot). There are basic requirements written into the new law that USDA will follow – see the Frequently Asked Questions below for the information now known. You can also see page 52 for the full text legislation (PDF, 2.2 MB).
USDA Wants Your Input on Rural Broadband e-Connectivity!
USDA will be analyzing multiple factors as it sets up the e-Connectivity Pilot program to make the program effective and accessible to all rural Americans. To best bridge the e-Connectivity gap in rural America, USDA wants to hear the thoughts and needs of those individuals living and doing business in rural communities. Only through your participation can this program succeed in making rural America great again, so please share your user and service provider feedback, insights and ideas, on the many factors we’re considering, including:
Rural Internet Service Users
- How affordable and reliable should rural broadband service be?
- What time-of-day (morning, afternoon or evening) do rural residents and businesses most need to use high-speed internet?
- How fast of internet connectivity is needed for business management, e-commerce, farming, ranching, education, and medical/healthcare purposes in rural areas, especially for large data transfers and real-time communications?
Rural Internet Service Providers
- What tools are available and in use today, to check if the internet is accessible at 10 mbps/1 mpbs speeds at households in rural areas?
- Which types of broadband technologies are most applicable for various types of rural areas such as cable, fiber, mobile wireless, fixed wireless, and satellite?
- How is the best way to prioritize rural broadband investments, in terms of evaluating lower costs and shorter times to complete construction, need for government financial support, and other factors?
Through September 10, USDA is also accepting public comment through the Federal Register.
New: ReConnect Rural Broadband Program
Frequently Asked Questions
To build improved broadband e-Connectivity infrastructure for as many rural families, businesses, farms, schools and health care facilities as possible so that they can succeed in the 21st Century.
The law allows USDA to offer applicants loans and grants to build infrastructure and install equipment that provides modern, reliable, high-speed internet service in rural America. Project eligibility specifications have been developed and details are available at ReConnect.usda.gov.
Rural telephone and broadband service providers, rural electric cooperatives, national and regional private companies, nonprofit organizations, and state and local government instrumentalities are likely to be awarded ReConnect funds, but eligibility depends on state and local laws. The only ineligible entities are sole proprietors and limited partnerships.
The budget language requires that ReConnect funds be spent in rural areas with a population of less than 20,000 residents, where there is not sufficient access to broadband service with speeds of 10 megabits per second (mbps) downstream and 1 megabits per second (mbps) upstream.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act 2018 does not allow the expenditure of ReConnect funds where current internet service providers are offering 10 mbps/1 mpbs speeds. When USDA receives applications for the ReConnect Rural Broadband Program, we will use the best available tools and information to determine if the proposed new service area already has 10 mbps/1 mpbs speed connections at the household level. This includes USDA following our standard process for determining service availability, such as:
- Consulting various sources of information about broadband service offerings in the area, including maps published by the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), state governments, and others;
- Notifying service providers located in the area about the application for ReConnect funds for proposed service area, so current internet service providers can inform USDA if service is already available at those households at 10 mbps/1 mpbs speeds; and
- Performing e-connectivity testing to determine the availability of service by sending our General Field Representatives to the proposed service area.
On December 13, USDA announced the launch of the ReConnect Rural Broadband Program. Information about goals, eligibility rules, build-out requirements, and administrative procedures are all available at ReConnect.usda.gov. The first due date for applications to be submitted is April 29. We hope rural communities, companies, and cooperatives will begin reviewing the ReConnect Program’s rules and requirements so they can start assembling their project’s information. Then, USDA will open up an electronic web-based application intake and review system, that will be available there in March 2019. Projects will begin receiving Federal funds from the ReConnect Program in Summer and Fall of 2019.
After reviewing the rules of the pilot program at ReConnect.usda.gov, begin creating the rural broadband project that your community, cooperative, or company wants to submit to USDA for federal funding. The online application portal has not yet opened, but you can develop all details of your rural broadband project and begin assembling all required information to apply. Visit ReConnect.usda.gov for more information and to find Keys to Success for project applications.
Developing Rural America
America’s economic prosperity is dependent on rural America’s ability to compete in the new global economy, and rural broadband e-Connectivity is fundamental to achieving America’s potential in the 21st Century.
Additional USDA Loan & Grant Programs for Rural Broadband
Community Connect Grants help rural communities extend access where broadband service is least likely to be commercially available, but where it can make a tremendous difference in the quality of life for people and businesses. The projects funded by these grants help rural residents tap into the enormous potential of the Internet for jobs, education, healthcare, public safety and community development.
Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants help rural residents tap into the enormous potential of modern telecommunications and the Internet for education and health care, two of the keys to economic and community development.
Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee furnishes loans and loan guarantees to provide funds for the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide service at the broadband lending speed in eligible rural areas.
Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans and Guarantees provides financing for the construction, maintenance, improvement and expansion of telephone service and broadband in rural areas.
Additional Federal Resources
Coming Soon: Across USDA’s mission areas and agencies, there are 27 programs than can be used to fund planning, construction, research and other e-Connectivity activities. The Rural Development Innovation Center has developed an e-Connectivity matrix that illustrates what customers are eligible for each program and the project types they can support.
The Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) BroadbandUSA help rural residents tap into the enormous potential of modern telecommunications and the Internet for education and health care, two of the keys to economic and community development.
The Federal Communications Commission has taken a number of steps to expand broadband across America. The Chairman's top priority is to close the digital divide between those who have access to cutting-edge communications services and those who do not. He believes that every American who wants to participate in the digital economy should be able to do so.