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Broadband access crucial to rural West Virginia

February 24, 2019 GMT

The commitment to helping improve the economy and quality of life is the core of our mission at USDA Rural Development. As I meet with community members from across the state to discuss opportunities and challenges in their communities, each conversation circles back to the need for high-speed broadband.

USDA has been on the frontlines for expanding access to high-speed broadband in rural communities. An innovative resource tool and a new pilot program will help ensure that rural communities have the resources necessary to support broadband deployment.

Just this month, USDA launched a user-friendly tool to help rural customers find the many resources USDA has available to support the expansion and use of e-Connectivity in rural America. The e-Connectivity Toolkit features 27 USDA programs that support broadband deployment.

This easy-to-use resource is a simple guide that allows customers to identify their type of e-Connectivity project and locate resources the federal government offers for planning, equipment, construction, research and other e-Connectivity projects.

The toolkit highlights examples of how e-Connectivity resources are being used to increase access to broadband services in rural communities. Programs featured in the toolkit are not the only resources provided by Rural Development. In fact, resources such as grants, loans and technical assistance are available from multiple mission areas at USDA, including Rural Development, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Forest Service.

This past December, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that the department is offering up to $600 million in loans and grants to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America, under the new pilot known as the ReConnect Program.

This program will allow telecommunications companies, rural electric cooperatives and utilities, internet service providers and municipalities to apply for funding to connect rural areas that currently have insufficient broadband service. Through ReConnect, USDA will make available approximately $200 million for grants, $200 million for loan and grant combinations, and $200 million for low-interest loans.

To help customers with the ReConnect application process, staff from USDA Rural Development will host a broadband application workshop from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 28 at the USDA Rural Development State Office located at 1550 Earl Core Road, Morgantown, West Virginia. Rural Development staff will discuss types of funding available, eligibility provisions, notice of proposed service area, and evaluation factors.

Be on the lookout for additional in-person and virtual learning opportunities at the ReConnect Community Events webpage.

With these new resources USDA has made available, I am excited to begin working with rural communities across the state to help improve access to high-speed broadband.

I highly encourage rural leaders to learn more about these great resources at USDA’s Broadband webpage.

Kris Warner is the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development State Director for West Virginia.