11.30.21

Leahy Comments On USDA Accepting Applications For ReConnect Broadband Funding

(TUESDAY, Nov. 30, 2021) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently accepting applications for $1.15 billion in funding through the ReConnect Program.  This program provides loans and grants to help Americans living in rural communities get access to quality, high-speed internet service.  Eligible applicants are state, local or territory governments, corporations, Native American Tribes, limited liability companies and cooperative organizations.

This funding is available for projects that serve rural areas where at least 90 percent of the households lack broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload.  USDA will give funding priority to projects that will serve people in low-density rural areas and areas lacking internet access services at speeds of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

Previously, areas of Vermont covered by a USDA Rural Utilities Service loan to the Vermont Telephone Company, Inc. (VTel) were not eligible for this program, excluding much of the state.  However, Senator Patrick Leahy, through his work as Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was able to change eligibility requirements so that any area of Vermont which does not meet the current minimum broadband service speed threshold of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload is eligible for the ReConnect program. 

This change makes nearly every area of Vermont eligible for the program.  Only those service areas where VTel is providing fiber service are ineligible.  

Leahy said:  “For too many years, Vermont has been handcuffed from receiving any funds from the USDA ReConnect grant program – that is why I fought so hard to include a provision in the Fiscal Year 2021 Appropriations Act to reopen this program to Vermont.  I am delighted to see the USDA follow through with this critical change.  Closing the digital divide in Vermont, particularly in the rural communities across the state, has long been a priority of mine as a United States Senator.  As a rural state, Vermont’s economic development hinges upon access to high-quality internet and telephone services, particularly as more Vermonters are working from home and more remote workers are moving to Vermont.  As school, work and access to health care shifted even further online, access to quality, high-speed broadband service will allow more Vermonters to learn, stay in touch with loved ones, and access essential government services from the comfort of their homes.”    

Applicants must commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload to every location in a proposed service area at the same time.  In making funding decisions, USDA will also consider the economic needs of the community to be served; the extent to which a provider will offer affordable service options; a project’s commitment to strong labor standards; and whether a project is serving Tribal lands or is submitted by a local government, Tribal government, non-profit or cooperative.

Applications for funding must be submitted through USDA Rural Development’s online application system on the ReConnect webpage.  For additional information, see the Oct. 22, 2021, Federal Register.

This round of USDA ReConnect funding does not include the nearly $2 billion from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act that was signed into law by President Biden earlier this month.  Vermont will receive a minimum allocation of $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state from the bipartisan infrastructure law because of the all state minimum secured through Senator Leahy’s work as Chairman of Senate Appropriations Committee.

 

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