U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Georgia State Director Joyce White announced a $4.4 million investment in high-speed broadband infrastructure. This investment will support the construction of 90 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure in Gilmer County. The service area includes 2,159 households, 25 pre-subscribed businesses, two critical community facilities, an educational facility and 24 pre-subscribed farms, including 22 poultry farms. This broadband investment will strengthen the poultry industry in north Georgia. This is one of many funding announcements in the first round of USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program investments.
“We are extremely proud to partner with Ellijay Telephone Company to expand broadband access,” White 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 we know when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”
The Ellijay Telephone Company (ETC), founded in 1903, is a technology leader in Gilmer, Fannin, Cherokee and Pickens counties in north Georgia. It offers cable television, telephone, security services and broadband solutions for business, commercial and residential subscribers.
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 percent loan, 100 percent 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 on March 16, 2020.
To assist potential providers with their applications, USDA is hosting technical assistance webinars and workshops across the country. To see an updated list of dates and locations, or to register to attend, visit www.usda.gov/reconnect/events.
A full description of 2020 ReConnect Pilot Program funding is available on page 67913 of the Dec. 12, 2019, Federal Register (PDF, 336 KB). To learn more about eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements, visit www.usda.gov/reconnect.
In April 2017, President Donald J. 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.