ReConnect aims to improve broadband availability in rural areas
The ReConnect Program is USDA’s largest effort aimed at filling gaps in high-speed internet in unserved and underserved rural areas. The program was created on a pilot basis in 2018 and appropriated more than $5 billion between fiscal years 2018 and 2023. Its grants and loans provide funds that help the private sector provide broadband service to rural areas, which otherwise may not be profitable to reach. ReConnect reached an estimated 21 percent of the eligible rural population in its first two funding rounds, which involved applications submitted in FY 2019 and 2020. Applicants had to propose to provide a minimum broadband speed to all residences, businesses, and farms in proposed areas (25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload during the first two funding rounds). Most applicants were small telecommunications companies or cooperatives. Researchers with the USDA’s Economic Research Service examined proposed and approved projects from the applications submitted in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 to find that about 57 percent of proposed projects were funded. The most common reasons that applications were not approved were that broadband service was already available in the proposed service area, lack of financial feasibility of the proposal, and missing or insufficient information. This chart appears in the ERS report Three USDA Rural Broadband Programs: Areas and Populations Served, published in October 2023.
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