USDA finalizes rural broadband access projects

USDA finalizes rural broadband access projects

Final funding round completes five-year project that brought high-speed internet to 260,000 rural households

USDA this week announced funding for 254 Recovery Act broadband projects financed by USDA's Rural Utilities Service, which will provide high-speed internet services to six million Americans in rural areas.

Related: Broadband council returns recommendations for expanded internet service

"I am proud to announce today that all of the active projects USDA has financed through the Recovery Act are now providing broadband service in rural areas nationwide," McBride said.

The "unprecedented level" of funding was approved in 2009, McBride said, allowing five years to connect rural areas to high-speed networks

Final round completes five-year project that brought high-speed internet to 260,000 rural households

"Bringing broadband to these areas is having a tremendous impact on rural communities. This access means more jobs, better education and a higher quality of life," he said.

More than half the infrastructure projects were completed under budget, resulting in the return of nearly $113 million to the U.S. Treasury. The measure's five-year period for funding broadband projects expired at the end of the 2015 fiscal year.

These projects have brought high-speed Internet access to 260,000 rural households, 17,500 businesses and 1,900 community facilities. The service providers estimate that completed projects could provide access for more than 5.8 million rural consumers.

While Congress instructed USDA to improve rural broadband access as part of a sweeping set of infrastructure investments funded through the Recovery Act, USDA is financing additional expansions to rural broadband service through other annual funding.

Related: Lawmakers Consider Rural Access to Broadband, Expansion Capabilities in Hearing

"We've accomplished a great deal as a result of the Recovery Act funding," McBride noted. "But we still have more to do. Too many rural Americans are still living on the wrong side of the digital divide. USDA is committed to bridging that divide by getting more rural Americans online at work, at school and at home."

According to the Federal Communications Commission, only 47% of people who live and work in rural areas have access to high-speed internet, compared to 90% of those who live and work in urban and metropolitan areas.

"Many rural areas still need assistance," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "High-speed broadband provides them real time info from which to make decisions, real time info by which elevators that are pricing product on a day-to-day minute-by-minute basis can ensure that farmers are getting a fair price."

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