Bowling Green, Ky. – Two important actions took place this week that will help provide relief for America’s families, businesses, farmers and ranchers, and small communities.
Lawmakers passed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the Farm Bill, and the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced how $600 million in loans and grants will be distributed through the ReConnect Program.
“This is a significant moment for rural America,” said Tom Ferree, Chairman & CEO, Connected Nation. “Through passage of the Farm Bill and the launch of the USDA ReConnect Program, our leaders recognize that small towns and farming communities are being left further and further behind in an increasingly digital world. Families are unable to access educational opportunities for their children; small businesses are struggling to compete; and our nation’s farmers are left with unreliable networks that they need for precision farming techniques. In the months and years ahead, more work will be required to truly make the transformative change needed to level the playing field for the millions of rural Americans still in the Digital Divide, but this week’s collective action starts a clear path towards rural prosperity.”
“The opportunity that these actions collectively represent also serves to further highlight another national priority: getting better broadband maps to steer and plan these investments now,” Ferree added. “Today’s national maps and data sets are simply not up to the task, and depending on them only cheats our rural communities from the full impact that Congress and the USDA contemplated through this week’s achievements. Indeed, this is the time to improve the granularity of our country’s maps so that we are spending these funds in the most effective way possible.”
The Farm Bill does several key things to strengthen farming communities. Among those provisions, lawmakers have set aside an additional $350 million for the Rural Utility Service’s (RUS) broadband loan and grant programs. This is in addition to the $600 million that falls under the ReConnect Program, which resulted from the Consolidated Appropriations Act that passed earlier this year.
“It’s a critical time for America’s rural communities,” said Chris Pedersen, VP of Development and Planning, Connected Nation. “To be better connected makes it possible for young adults to access jobs and stay near their families. It means giving senior citizens access to better healthcare; businesses and farmers access to the marketplace; and ultimately providing a sustainable path to keep America’s small towns vibrant.”
The USDA released details about the ReConnect Program yesterday during a press conference in Washington, D.C. According to officials, the funds will be divvied up in three increments—$200 million in grants, $200 million for loan and grant combinations, and $200 million for low-interest loans—over three application periods. The first is due April 29; the last June 28. To learn more, head to https://reconnect.usda.gov.
Projects funded through this initiative must serve communities fewer than 20,000 people with no broadband service or where service is slower than ten megabits per second (mbps) download and one mbps upload, according to the USDA’s press release. Priority will be given to those projects that “propose to deliver higher-capacity connections to rural homes, businesses, and farms.”
“The important thing for those living in these communities to know is that you need to begin developing a plan now, because you will be competing against others who, like you, are finding themselves on the wrong side of the Digital Divide,” said Eric Frederick, VP of Community Affairs, Connected Nation. “You need real data about where your community lacks service, the opportunities for expanding coverage, potential partnerships, and so much more. From there, you can develop a Technology Action Plan that demonstrates to USDA officials how funding will help transform your community.”
Connected Nation’s mission is to improve lives by providing innovative solutions that expand broadband access, adoption, and use. To that end, the nonprofit has helped more than 300 hundred communities develop Technology Action Plans through our Connected Community Engagement Program.
A Technology Action Plan will, among other things, provide:
- Geospatial analysis of community infrastructure so you know exactly where to build and how to leverage existing framework
- Customized data-collection so you know who really has access, who does not, and how to fix
- Analysis of how your community institutions are using technology to improve quality of life
- Comparison of your connectivity with other similar places so you know where you stand and the work to be done
- Recommendations on actionable steps to be taken to improve connectivity—including building infrastructure, opportunities to partner, and improve digital inclusion and understanding for all members of your community.
If you are seeking guidance and would like to develop a plan for your community, head to connectmycommunity.org or contact Chris Pedersen with Connected Nation at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-255-6098.