USDA dishes out $167M for rural broadband

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded $167 million in grants to fuel rural broadband projects across 12 states as part of the second round of funding for its Broadband ReConnect Program.

More than a dozen projects covering over 31,000 households will be funded through the latest batch of awards, with work spanning Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

Utah’s UBTA-UBET Communications, which does business as Strata Networks, received the largest grant of the bunch, taking home $24.6 million for a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network covering 3,472 households. The second largest award, some $23.3 million, went to the Oklahoma Western Telephone Company for a FTTP network covering 947 households.

Other notable grants include $16.8 million for Alaska’s Nushagak Electric & Telephone Cooperative, $14.9 million for Arizona’s Gila Local Exchange and Carrier; and $14.1 million for Central Virginia Services. All three projects will deliver fiber-to-the-premises.

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Established in 2018, the Reconnect Program doled out more than $656 million in grant and loan support to 76 broadband projects across 33 states in its first funding round in fiscal year 2019. The program issued a total of $853.9 million for 105 projects across 37 states in the second round of funding for fiscal year 2020, the USDA said in a recent report. All told, the program has pumped $1.5 billion into rural broadband projects since its inception.

To date, Missouri has received the most ReConnect funding, followed by Oklahoma, Virginia, Alabama and Alaska. States which have not received any support include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The USDA said in a press release it expects to open applications for a third funding round “in the coming weeks”.