(AgInsider) The White House announced $677 million in grants and loans today for high-speed internet service in rural areas of 22 states and the Marshall Islands.
With the fourth round of funding, the USDA has put $3.1 billion into 179 rural broadband projects through its ReConnect program in less than two years.
During a teleconference, White House infrastructure adviser Mitch Landrieu said the funding was part of an administration drive to make high-speed internet available everywhere in the country.
“We’re delivering this funding because the internet is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity to fully participate in today’s society.”
Most of the ReConnect funding — $493 million — was awarded as grants and the remaining $174 million was structured as loans, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“Now, that grant money is important because it makes it easier for operations to create the kind of packages and programs and pricing that allows more families in those communities to access high-speed internet and the benefits of it,” he said.
Some $260 million was still available in ReConnect funds and will be awarded over the next several months, said Vilsack. The ReConnect Program provides loans and grants to deploy high-speed internet access to parts of rural America that currently do not have sufficient access to broadband.
Ponderosa Telephone Co., based in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in central California, received the largest award, $42.6 million split evenly between grant and loan money.
The plan is “to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises and hybrid-fiber-coax network to provide high-speed internet,” said the USDA. “This network will benefit 1,280 people, 26 businesses and 12 farms in Fresno County, California.”
While Fresno County is known for agricultural production as part of the Central Valley, Ponderosa says on its website that it serves 10,000 homes and businesses “from the southern California desert to the central California high Sierra; approximately 4,000 square miles from sea level to mountainous elevations.”
Fresno County covers 6,011 square miles and its the sixth-largest county in California by land area.
The smallest award was a $596,496 grant to Beehive Telephone Co. for a high-speed fiber-to-the-premises network serving 10 people in lightly populated White Pine County in eastern Nevada, on the border with Utah.
The Marshall Islands National Telecommunications Authority was granted $25.3 million for a high-speed fiber-to-the-premises and fixed wireless network serving 6,402 people and three educational facilities on the Kwajalein Atoll and Majuro Atoll, where the islands’ capital is located.
The Marshall Islands, consisting of 29 atolls and five islands, are halfway between Hawaii and Australia.
A list of projects receiving ReConnect funding is available here.