USDA serves up $714M in ReConnect funding for 19 states

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dished out a heaping portion of broadband funding on Monday, awarding $714 million from the ReConnect program to cover 33 buildouts in 19 states. The funding tally amounts to nearly two-thirds of the $1.15 billion being allocated as part of ReConnect Round Four.

The money includes just over $420 million in grants and $293.7 million in loans, which will be used to cover more than 90,000 locations including residences, farms, businesses and educational institutions. There were no big names among the award winners, which were instead mostly comprised of utility companies, electric cooperatives and local internet service providers.

“It’s no secret here without government support and without government assistance, it is highly unlikely that a lot of these projects would actually take place,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a call with the press. “That would mean that we would have basically two Americas: one America that was connected and one America that wasn’t. The reality is the President feels very, very strongly that we should be one America, especially when it comes to broadband access and the capabilities and opportunities that it creates.”

States receiving funding included Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Washington. A full list of projects can be found here.

The award is the third in the USDA’s fourth round of ReConnect funding. USDA previously doled out $40 million in April to covering a trio of projects in New Mexico and $17 million in May for a buildout in Vermont. The USDA previously said it was planning to hand out a total of $1.15 billion in Round 4, but an official on the press call noted it is looking at increasing that amount since more funding has become available to the agency.

USDA’s distribution of broadband funding comes as the government gears up to dole out more than $42 billion as part of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program. According to White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitchell Landreiu, there is “substantial collaboration and coordination” between the USDA and the other agencies responsible for doling out funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to ensure “that we’re not duplicating our efforts or laying fiber optic cable in the same place with two separate sets of funds.”

Those agencies would include, of course, the Department of Commerce, which is tasked with handing out $45 billion in funding (including the BEAD money) via the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The NTIA is expected to announce BEAD allocations for each state by the end of this month.