broadbandAgriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today announced the first funding recipient in the ReConnect rural broadband pilot program. The USDA awarded a $2.85 million grant to Forked Deer Electric Cooperative in Tennessee to make broadband at speeds of at least 100 Mbps available to 347 households and one critical community facility spread over 435 square miles.

The USDA has a budget of $600 million for the pilot program, one-third of which it plans to award as grants, one third of which will be awarded in the form of loans and one-third of which will be awarded as grant/ loan combinations.

USDA ReConnect Funding Awarded
The USDA ReConnect rural broadband program was established by Congress last year. The program targets areas with few or no households that can get broadband at speeds of 10 Mbps or higher.

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To receive a loan or loan/grant combination, an applicant must target areas in which no more than 10% of locations can get 10 Mbps broadband. Grants are only available to areas in which no locations can get 10 Mbps service.

Funding recipients are required to deploy service at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps, and extra points are being given to applicants that commit to deploying service at speeds of at least 100 Mbps.

According to a press release issued today about the Tennessee funding awarded, the program received a total of 146 applications for funding. USDA said it would make more funding announcements “in coming weeks.”

When he announced the USDA ReConnect program rules last year, Perdue noted that “broadband connectivity is part of rural prosperity” and “we don’t want an urban-rural divide in this country.”

Applications for ReConnect funding also receive extra points if the state to be served has a rural broadband funding program – a rule some people have credited with spurring the creation of more state-level programs.

Image courtesy of flickr user Sean MacEntee.

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