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USDA Invests $12.8 Million in Rural Illinois Broadband
Illinois Ag Connection - 12/05/2019

USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) Bill Northey announced USDA has invested $12.8 million in high-speed broadband infrastructure that will create or improve e-Connectivity for more than 1,650 homes in rural Illinois. This is one of many funding announcements in the first round of USDA's ReConnect Pilot Program investments.

"We know that rural communities need robust, modern infrastructure to thrive, and that includes having access to broadband e-Connectivity," Northey said. "Broadband is no longer an amenity. It is essential for education, health care and public safety. I'm excited about the tremendous benefits broadband will have for farmers here in Illinois. USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural communities in deploying this critical infrastructure, because we know when rural America thrives, all of America thrives."

Wabash Telephone Cooperative, Inc. will use a $12.8 million 50 percent loan-grant combination to deploy 298 miles of fiber-optic cable in unserved areas of Jefferson and Wayne counties in Illinois. This investment is anticipated to reach 1,684 households, 31 farms, 29 businesses, nine educational facilities, two critical community facilities and one health care center.

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.

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