USDA Hands Out Rural Broadband Funds

The Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service was doing its part this week to try and close the digital divide, at least to the degree that government broadband subsidies will do that. 

Related: USDA Opening Window on $550 In Subsidies 

The USDA said Monday (Jan. 20) that it had given out $18.7 million for a high-speed infrastructure project to improve rural connectivity for 6,300 households in West Virginia. The money is part of the first round of funding in its ReConnect Pilot [loan/grant] Program

Then on Tuesday, USDA said it had handed out another $7.1 million for two high-speed broadband fiber-to-the-home infrastructure projects in rural Arksansas connecting about 560 households, also part of that pilot program. 

The program is funded with $600 million provided by Congress in 2018 to expand rural broadband, plus another $550 million allocated for 2020.  

There was plenty of interest in the money.  

USDA got 146 applications for $1.4 billion in funding, some for loans, some for grants, and some for a mix of both. The department is announcing winners on a rolling basis.  

The Trump Administration has declared rural broadband deployment a priority, particularly for precision agricultural. 

Allocating money for rural broadband and precision agriculture is a big issue in Washington these days, including prompting legislators to call for using the money from a C-Band midband auction for rural rollouts  rather than paying satellite operators to give up that spectrum.   

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.