Thanks to Congressional creation two years ago of the federal ReConnect Program, Congressman Fred Upton join U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today in announcing a new $3.3-million federal grant to help provide high-speed broadband service across Michigan’s Great Southwest.
Upton says that the grant recipient – Southwest Michigan Communications, Inc. – will also receive a $3.3 million loan to help fund the $6.7 million project. The funding will be used to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 3,203 people, 40 farms and 27 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Van Buren, Kalamazoo and Allegan counties.
The St. Joseph Congressman said today, “I was with students in March when they heard their classes would go all virtual, and one of them turned to me and said that they don’t have access to internet at home. It’s 2020 – that needs to change.” He adds, “Too many families – especially in rural areas like here in southwest Michigan – lack access to reliable, high-speed internet. Especially as many of us work, take classes, and utilize telehealth services from home, we need to ensure all families have access to broadband service. Today’s announcement is a huge step as we look to close the digital divide in southwest Michigan.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Perdue says, “The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now – as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency. Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband.” He adds, “I am so proud of our rural communities who have been working day in and day out, just like they always do, producing the food and fiber America depends on. We need them more than ever during these trying times, and expanding access to this critical infrastructure will help ensure rural America prospers for years to come.”
In March of 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On December 13th of that year, Secretary Perdue announced the rules of the program, called “ReConnect,” including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America.
On April 20, 2020, USDA announced the Department had received 172 applications for $1.57 billion in Round Two of the ReConnect Program. The second round will enable USDA to implement innovative new solutions to rural connectivity by leveraging financial options with partners and continuing the success of the first round of funding. The application window for Round Two closed on April 15th.
In Round One of the ReConnect Program, USDA invested $698 million to bring high-speed broadband e-Connectivity to approximately 167,000 households, 17,000 rural small businesses and farms, and more than 500 health care centers, educational facilities and critical community facilities located in 33 states.