ReConnect Round 4 grants begin to flow

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made what appeared to be the first awards for Round 4 of its ReConnect Broadband grant program, doling out a total of $40 million this week.

All three awards cover projects in New Mexico. They include a $23.8 million grant to the Western New Mexico Telephone company to deploy fiber across Catron County; $13.9 million in funding to Peñasco Valley Telephone Cooperative for a fiber rollout to more than 550 locations across Chaves, Eddy, Otero and Lincoln counties; and a $2.6 million award to E.N.M.R. Telephone Cooperative for a fiber project spanning parts of De Baca, Guadalupe, Harding, Quay, San Miguel, Socorro and Union counties.

The USDA wrapped up Round 3 of the ReConnect program in February with the award of $63 million for projects spanning Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Mississippi. All told, it handed out $1.7 billion in support as part of Round 3, taking the program’s lifetime total to $3.2 billion in awards.

With Round 4, the USDA is poised to dish out another $1.15 billion. An application window for Round 4 was open from September 6 to November 2, 2022. Additional awards are set to be announced “in the coming weeks,” the USDA said in a press release.

But not everyone who applied for support will get it. USDA RUS Administrator Andrew Berke told Fierce in January, the ReConnect program continues to be oversubscribed – meaning applicants are asking for more money than is available.

In March, President Joe Biden unveiled a proposed budget which would allocate an additional $400 million for the ReConnect program. The budget is unlikely to pass Congress as proposed, but Biden’s proposal suggests he continues to view the program as a priority.

It is also possible that additional funding could be directed to the ReConnect program through the 2023 Farm Bill, which Congress is expected to tackle later this year.