The Biden administration on Monday continued its push toward internet-for-all by 2030, announcing about $667 million in new grants and loans to build more broadband infrastructure in the rural U.S.
“With this investment, we’re getting funding to communities in every corner of the country because we believe that no kid should have to sit in the back of a mama’s car in a McDonald’s parking lot in order to do homework,” said Mitch Landrieu, the White House’s infrastructure coordinator, in a call with reporters.
The 37 new recipients represent the fourth round of funding under the program, dubbed ReConnect by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Another 37 projects received $771.4 million in grants and loans announced in April and June.
The money flowing through federal broadband programs, including what was announced Monday and the $42.5 billion infrastructure program detailed earlier this summer, will lead to a new variation on “the electrification of rural America,” Landrieu said, repeating a common Biden administration refrain.
The largest award went to the Ponderosa Telephone Co. in California, which received more than $42 million to deploy fiber networks in Fresno County. In total, more than 1,200 people, 12 farms and 26 other businesses will benefit from that effort alone, according to USDA.
The telephone cooperatives, counties and telecommunications companies that won the new awards are based in 22 states and the Marshall Islands.
At least half of the households in areas receiving the new funding lack access to internet speeds of 100 megabits per second download and 20 Mbps upload — what the federal government considers “underserved” in broadband terminology. The recipients’ mandate is to build networks that raise those levels to at least 100 Mbps upload and 100 Mbps download speeds for every household, business and farm in their service areas.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the investments could bring new economic opportunities to farmers, allow people without close access to medical care to see specialist doctors through telemedicine and increase academic offerings, including Advanced Placement courses in high schools.
“The fact that this administration understands and appreciates the need for continued investment in rural America to create more opportunity is something that I’m really excited about,” Vilsack said on the media call.
Harjai, who reported from Los Angeles, is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.