USDA’s ReConnect broadband projects served rural areas with less formal education, more poverty, and an older population

Vertical bar chart showing population characteristics by USDA ReConnect project status in fiscal year 2019 to 2021.

Households in nonmetro areas are more than four times as likely to lack broadband internet access as households in metro areas, according to December 2022 data from the Federal Communications Commission. To help bring broadband to rural areas, USDA’s ReConnect program—USDA’s largest rural broadband program—provides grants and loans to internet providers to help finance the costs of providing high-speed internet through broadband services. To be eligible for ReConnect funding, areas served by projects must be rural and have 90 percent or more of households without access to broadband at minimum upload and download speeds. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers examined ReConnect projects proposed in fiscal years 2019 and 2020, finding that the populations of areas eligible for possible projects and areas of approved projects tended to have less formal educational attainment (a larger share of adults with high school or less), more poverty, and more people over the age of 65. About 53 percent of the population in ReConnect-eligible areas had high school or less educational attainment, compared with 40 percent in ineligible areas. Likewise, the poverty rate was higher in eligible areas (17 percent compared with 14 percent) as was the portion of the population over age 65 (19 percent compared with 16 percent). This chart appears in the ERS report Three USDA Rural Broadband Programs: Areas and Populations Served, published in October 2023.

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