This fall USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) successfully completed its final round of grant awards under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act). In the last year and a half, we’ve done more to bridge the digital divide for rural Americans than many ever thought possible. The Recovery Act has unleashed an historic level of investment in rural high speed telecommunications infrastructure that will create new jobs, new services and new opportunities across the countryside.
The Recovery Act Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) consisted of two rounds of funding. In those two rounds the RUS broadband team reviewed more than 3,000 applications and selected 320 projects for awards across 46 states and one territory. This amazing accomplishment will help transform rural communities and lead to new economic opportunities that we can only begin to imagine.
I’m pleased to announce that we have just published an 84-page report, entitled “Advancing Broadband,” that details all the projects that won BIP awards. The selection process was rigorous and the competition was intense. The Advancing Broadband report explains the exciting new services which will soon be made available in hundreds of rural communities. Let me give you a quick overview of the report.
By leveraging the original $2.5 billion authorized by Congress to fund loans as well as grants, USDA was able to invest almost $3.53 billion in rural broadband infrastructure. In addition, $285 million of non-federal funds were committed to be invested in BIP projects. This funding will enable around 7 million rural Americans to connect to one of 285 last-mile, 12 middle-mile, or four satellite projects funded by the BIP program. On top of that, over 360,000 businesses and 30,000 community service organizations such as hospitals, schools and public safety agencies will be connected to a high-speed digital future.
Broadband access is one of the pillars of rural economic development identified by Secretary Vilsack and President Obama. “Advancing Broadband” provides a foundation for strong rural communities. Products, services and ideas originated in rural communities can find a global market. Life-long learning, government services and quality medical advice can be brought right into your community and home. Jobs and economic opportunity will be created as successful applicants build out BIP funded systems and as rural farms, businesses and communities find new ways to build on this exciting new infrastructure. Approximately 25,000 jobs will be created immediately and many thousands more will be created in the future based on these new networks.
Bill and Shelley Nondorf of Hoxie, KS, are great examples of the potential to build out and build on broadband. Thanks to new services deployed by a BIP award recipient, Bill and Shelley have been able to grow their business and provide more services to customers.
I am very proud of the work of the RUS team to successfully complete record breaking investments in telecommunications, electric and water infrastructure. Our work is far from done. Our field staff, accountants and agency experts will be working to ensure that taxpayer dollars are well spent and projects are kept on track. Another BIP funded initiative provided nineteen technical assistance grants to encourage regional economic development planning based on expanding broadband access. Soon, we will be opening our regular broadband loan and grant programs to new applications. We are encouraging those who did not get funded in the highly competitive BIP program to consider applying to our broadband loan and community connect programs. I hope you’ll take a close look at this report. To see it, click here.
To find out more about how USDA programs can benefit your community, click here.