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USDA Invest $11.3 million in Alaska for Broadband Service

According to USDA, the Trump Administration announced on November 13, 2020, that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $11.3 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Alaska. This investment is part of the $550 million Congress allocated to the second round of the ReConnect Program.

What is ReConnect Program?

In this rapidly developing Internet and AI era, high-speed networks are indispensable for individuals, families, or an industry. Internet high-tech also greatly promotes the development of agriculture and can help greatly increase efficiency and production. But rural areas have always been left behind. In many rural areas, there is no stable network, or the network speed is very poor, or the network fee is too expensive for people to afford. The ReConnect Program is born to solve these problems and secure broadband service in rural areas.

In the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Congress provided $600 million to the Broadband Pilot Program, which we are now calling the ReConnect Program, which focuses on areas that completely lack or have insufficient broadband service. In Fiscal Year 2019, an additional $550 million was added to the program by Congress. In Fiscal Year 2020, Congress appropriated an additional $555 million to the program. The ReConnect Program provides loans, grants, and loan/grant combinations to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas that don’t currently have sufficient access to broadband, defined by the law as 10 Mbps (megabits per second) downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.

How does the Round 1 ReConnect Program end?

The Round 1 ReConnect Program lasts from April 23, 2019, to July 12, 2019. during this period, 82 projects for high-speed broadband infrastructure in 34 states have received a total of $744,303,168 in grant and loan funding, of which $357,798,959 is for for-profit Corporations, $237,929,797 is for cooperative or mutual organizations, States, $27,866,600 is for local governments or agency, $119,764,857 is for limited liability companies, and $942,955 is for an Indian tribe. $172,669 has been granted to rural households, and $18,942 has been granted to farms and businesses. Healthcare centers, educational facilities, and critical communities have received $562.

About the Round 2 ReConnect Program

On December 12, 2019, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, announced the availability of the second round of funding under the ReConnect Program. USDA will make up to $200 million for grants, up to $200 million for 50/50 grant/loan combinations, and up to $200 million for low-interest loans. Applications for the second round of funding were accepted between January 31, 2020, and April 15, 2020.

Following are some changes in the Round 2 ReConnect Program.

  1. Definitions have been added for healthcare and educational facilities and the name for critical community facilities has been changed to essential community facilities.
  2. For 100 percent grants, 90 percent of the proposed funded service area cannot have sufficient access to broadband, as opposed to 100 percent under round one.
  3. The requirement for two years of unqualified, comparative, audited financial statements has been changed to unqualified, comparative, audited financial statements for the previous year from the date the application has been submitted.
  4. The requirement that applicants must submit certifications from the appropriate state or tribal broadband office has been changed to a voluntary request.
  5. Pre-application expenses that were incurred for round one, but benefit an application for round two, may be funded up to 5 percent of the total award in round 2.
  6. Under certain conditions, a subsidiary can use the unqualified, comparative, audited statements to meet certain eligibility requirements.
  7. The scoring criteria for farms have been changed. Applicants will receive 1 point for every 10 farms served up to a maximum of 20 points. Farms will be counted using 2017 Census of Agriculture data.
  8. Tribal leaders can submit documentation supporting scoring points for the number of healthcare, educational and essential community facilities.
  9. The time period incumbent service providers will be able to challenge if sufficient service is present in an applicant’s proposed funded service area is being increased from 30 days to 45 days.

(Part of the content and all the statistics in this article are adopted from and edited based on USDA publications and releases.)