USDA awards $401M in third ReConnect funding round

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled today the first slate of winners in the Broadband ReConnect Program’s third funding round – doling out $401 million across 11 states.

The agency is supporting over 20 projects aiming to deliver broadband for over 31,000 rural residents and businesses. Several awards are dedicated to providing service on tribal lands.

The two largest grants were doled out to Alaska’s Bristol Bay Telephone Cooperative ($34.9 million) and Unicom Inc. ($31.03 million). Both these companies will deploy fiber-to-the-premises networks, with coverage encompassing homes, schools, businesses and numerous Alaskan tribal communities.

Including awards for AP&T Wireless Inc. ($29.3 million) and Cordova Telephone Cooperative ($21.4 million), Alaska gained approximately $116.7 million in additional broadband funding.

Alaska’s GCI received a sizable $25 million federal grant back in 2020 to build a long-haul subsea fiber system serving several Aleutian communities

Other notable awards include around $25 million for Montana’s Nemont Telephone Cooperative and $27.2 million for Nevada’s Uprise LLC. Both of these projects will deliver fiber-to-the-premises, to 1,058 and 4,884 households respectively.

The USDA also awarded a loan of about $45 million to Arizona’s Valley Telephone Cooperative, which will use the funds to replace copper-based equipment in 13 exchanges throughout Arizona and New Mexico.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack stated the latest investments “will help 31,000 people and businesses in large and diverse regions across the country access new and critical opportunities.”

ReConnect applications for the third rounding round kicked off November 24 of last year. The USDA allocated $350 million to offer dedicated 100% grants for tribal governments and socially vulnerable communities.

Tribal lands also got an influx of funding from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program. The $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) called for $2 billion to be distributed through the existing Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, established in 2020.

BEAD applications closed on July 18, with all 50 states and eligible territories – including tribal governments – signing onto the funding pot.

The ReConnect Program was established in 2018, having previously allocated $656 million funding in 2019, $853.9 million in 2020 and $167 million last year.

Eligible applicants must provide symmetrical 100 Mbps service and serve areas which lack speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps.

In other recent funding news, AT&T, Charter Communications among other operators received this week sizable broadband grants from Louisiana’s GUMBO grant program, which totaled $129.5 million in broadband grants.