Press Release

New USDA Initiative Takes Steps Towards Closing the Digital Divide in Rural and Tribal Communities

October 22, 2021
newspaper

Today, Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the agency will make $1.15 available through its ReConnect program to provide high-speed internet to rural and Tribal communities. Of the $1.5 billion, $700 million will be made in the form of grants, with $350 million of those grants having no matching requirement from Tribal areas and “socially vulnerable communities” (as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions index).

The program will require recipients to build networks that provide 100 megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds and 20 Mbps upload speeds, and commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at speeds of 100/100 Mbps to every location in its proposed service area. It also opens up eligibility to include municipalities, localities, Tribal governments, nonprofits, cooperatives, and others to ensure these communities can take advantage of this unique opportunity.

Public Knowledge applauds this new initiative to help rural and Tribal communities get connected and stay connected to affordable, reliable high-speed internet. It takes an essential step towards closing the digital divide in America.

The USDA will begin accepting applications for community funding on November 24.

The following can be attributed to Greg Guice, Director of Government Affairs at Public Knowledge:

“Broadband access in our rural and Tribal communities lags well behind urban access. In fact, our Tribal areas are the least served in the country. This is a fact with real consequences for the future of the people that live in these areas. It inhibits their economic and educational opportunities and affects their ability to access health care and stay connected with not only their loved ones but their broader community.

“While the ReConnect program has been around since 2018, what the USDA is undertaking here is game-changing for these communities. For the first time, a substantial amount of the funding, $350 million, will be targeted at the most vulnerable areas – Tribal lands and socially vulnerable communities without the barrier of a 25% matching grant from the community. Moreover, by expanding the opportunity for Tribal governments, municipalities, localities, nonprofits, and others to be recipients, the USDA is creating the opportunity for self-determination on our Tribal lands and local control in rural areas that will empower these communities to chart their broadband future. And by requiring recipients to build robust broadband networks capable of 100/100 Mbps speeds, these will be networks that support the communities’ needs well into the future.

“Public Knowledge applauds the visionary structure of this program and the opportunities it will create for so many of our rural and Tribal communities.”