WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) announced that the USDA has begun accepting applications for loans and grants to help people in rural areas access high-speed internet. This funding was awarded through the USDA’s ReConnect program, which supports high-speed broadband infrastructure projects to improve connectivity for rural communities.
“While the enactment of the bipartisan infrastructure law will go a long way to strengthen our nation’s broadband infrastructure, right now 16% of households in rural Minnesota continue to lack broadband at baseline speeds,” said Klobuchar. “The ReConnect program provides rural Minnesotans with the resources they need to access high-speed internet so they can work, study, and connect with loved ones online. I strongly encourage those that are eligible to apply.”
“Access to high-speed broadband is the infrastructure of the 21st century,” said Smith. “COVID-19 has made it even more clear that reliable broadband is necessary for telehealth, distance learning, remote work and more. With this new funding, rural areas will be able to develop their infrastructure, and contribute to a resilient community. I will continue working to direct more federal dollars towards Minnesota infrastructure projects to ensure we are pursuing a comprehensive investment in rural communities.”
Eligible applicants are state, local or territory governments; corporations; Native American Tribes; limited liability companies; and cooperative organizations. ReConnect 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 certain speeds.
Applicants must commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at certain speeds 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.
This funding does not include the nearly $2 billion included in the bipartisan infrastructure law for the ReConnect program. The USDA plans to issue a new Notice of Funding Opportunity to make the additional funds in the bipartisan infrastructure law available in 2022.
Klobuchar has been a leader in the fight to expand high-speed internet access. Most recently, provisions based on her legislation with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn were included in the bipartisan infrastructure law enacted last month. These provisions will build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities to help close the digital divide.
Smith has consistently supported legislation to expand broadband access across Minnesota, including rural and tribal areas. Smith’s Community Connect Grant Program Act to improve broadband in rural communities was included in the 2018 Farm Bill.