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This graphic shows how recommendations are determined for the USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program investments.

YELLVILLE — On Tuesday, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Arkansas state director David Branscum announced USDA has invested $7.1 million in two, high-speed broadband infrastructure projects that will create or improve rural e-Connectivity for 1,250 rural households in north central Arkansas. This is one of many funding announcements in the first round of USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program investments.

“Through USDA’s ReConnect Program, more than 1,250 Arkansans living in rural communities will get access to the latest broadband technology that will connect them to opportunities in education, health care and economic development,” Branscum said. “Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Perdue, USDA has made deploying this critical infrastructure across rural America a top priority because when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

The Yelcot Telephone Company will use a $1.7 million ReConnect Program grant and a $1.7 million loan to upgrade facilities from copper cable and drops to a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network that is expected to connect 548 households in Baxter and Marion counties.

The Mountain View Telephone Company will use a $3.7 million ReConnect Program grant to upgrade facilities from copper cable and drops to an FTTH network that is expected to connect 702 households, 15 pre-subscribed farms and a pre-subscribed business in Stone County.

In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, 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. USDA received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding across all three ReConnect Program funding products: 100% loan, 100% grant, and loan-grant combinations. USDA is reviewing applications and announcing approved projects on a rolling basis. Additional investments in all three categories will be made in the coming weeks.

These grants, loans and combination funds enable the federal government to partner with the private sector and rural communities to build modern broadband infrastructure in areas with insufficient internet service. Insufficient service is defined as connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload.

In December 2019, Agriculture Secretary Perdue announced USDA will be making available an additional $550 million in ReConnect funding in 2020. USDA will make available 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. The application window for this round of funding will open Jan. 31, 2020. Applications for all funding products will be accepted in the same application window, which will close no later than March 16, 2020.

Visit www.usda.gov/reconnect to learn more about eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements.

In April 2017, President Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force, a press release said.

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas.

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