Published in Economic Development

USDA puts $22.5M toward increasing rural broadband access in Southwest Michigan

BY Friday, May 29, 2020 10:53am

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded $22.5 million to expand rural broadband access to thousands of residents and dozens of businesses in Southwest Michigan.

The USDA announced the investment this month for Barry County Services Co. and Southwest Michigan Communications Inc. 

The $11.8 million for Barry County will be a combination of grants and loans for fiber-based broadband access for 17 farms, 16 businesses and 12,000 residents over 127 square miles.

The remaining $10.7 million is a combination of grants and loans for fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband in Van Buren and Allegan counties, extending access to 22 farms, 19 businesses and 7,700 residents over 100 square miles.

“This investment from USDA will not only help keep Michigan’s food and agriculture industry competitive in a global economy, but it will also help close the resource gap for tens of thousands rural Michigan residents,” Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director Gary McDowell said in a statement today. “In the coming months, the state is looking to build upon this momentum with broadband investments of its own, which will improve the lives of our residents and keep Michigan one of the best states in which to do business.”

The need for rural broadband access has been amplified during the coronavirus pandemic as a large portion of work, school and health care has shifted to homes.

“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now — as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency. Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement this month. “I am so proud of our rural communities who have been working day in and day out, just like they always do, producing the food and fiber America depends on. We need them more than ever during these trying times, and expanding access to this critical infrastructure will help ensure rural America prospers for years to come.”

The latest funding is part of the federal ReConnect program that was initially funded by Congress with $600 million in 2018. During the grant and loan application process last year, the USDA received $1.4 billion in funding requests. In round two this year, the USDA has received $1.57 billion in funding requests. An additional $100 million in funding was included in the CARES Act. 

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