Broadband

$18M USDA grant to improve broadband in five counties, including Upshur

HARRISON COUNTY, W.Va. – U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), both members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today joined with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) West Virginia State Director Kris Warner to announce an $18.7 million broadband investment.

The grant, which is through USDA’s ReConnect program, will support a high-speed broadband infrastructure project that will create or improve rural broadband for more than 6,300 rural households and approximately 383 farms in Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Barbour and Upshur counties.

“I helped create the ReConnect program within the appropriations process because I saw the need to close the digital divide in rural America. I’ve continued to support ReConnect enthusiastically because USDA uniquely understands the difficulties associated with implementing broadband in rural areas and is better equipped to tackle those issues head-on. Today’s announcement will help connect more than 6,000 people in Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Barbour, and Upshur counties, providing over 400 miles of fiber-to-the-premises networks. With Harrison County matching some of the funds given, this project is the perfect example of federal and local partners working together to help West Virginia homes and businesses in need. Access and affordability of rural broadband has always been a priority of mine, and I’m grateful to see Secretary Perdue and the Trump administration prioritize this issue,” Senator Capito said.

“Adequate access to broadband is crucial to the health of West Virginia businesses and communities. Rural areas, like many in West Virginia, are often overlooked because it’s expensive to deploy broadband, which is why I have made improving broadband access across West Virginia one of my top priorities in Washington. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee I will continue to advocate for funding that supports expanding reliable broadband access in rural areas and I applaud the USDA for investing in our state,” said Senator Manchin.

“This project is providing a critical communications investment in some truly rural areas of West Virginia,” said Kris Warner, USDA West Virginia State Director. “Through USDA’s ReConnect program, these counties will get access to the latest broadband technology.  This will have a positive economic impact for the farms, small businesses and families that live in these communities. Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA is committed to this strong partnership with rural communities in deploying this critical infrastructure, because we know when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

Last month, Senators Capito and Manchin announced that Wetzel and Tyler counties were awarded similar grants through the USDA ReConnect program. Today’s announcement is the third ReConnect grant for West Virginia.

Senator Capito helped create the ReConnect program, and she also worked to secure funds in the FY2018, FY 2019, and FY2020 budgets for the program. Through her Capito Connect initiative, Senator Capito has made improving connectivity and closing the digital divide in West Virginia a top priority and has worked to advance efforts and deliver resources to support programs like ReConnect.

In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. In December 2018, Agriculture Secretary Perdue announced the rules of the ReConnect program, including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America.

USDA received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding across all three ReConnect Program funding products: 100 percent loan, 100 percent grant, and loan-grant combinations. USDA is reviewing applications and announcing approved projects on a rolling basis.

These grants, loans and combination funds enable the federal government to partner with the private sector and rural communities to build modern broadband infrastructure in areas with insufficient internet service. Insufficient service is defined as connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload.

In December 2019, Secretary Perdue announced USDA will be making available an additional $550 million in ReConnect funding in 2020. USDA will make available up to $200 million for grants, up to $200 million for 50/50 grant/loan combinations, and up to $200 million for low-interest loans.

The application window for this round of funding will open Jan. 31, 2020. Applications for all funding products will be accepted in the same application window, which will close no later than March 16, 2020.

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