The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced a pair of financial awards – a grant and a loan – in high-speed broadband infrastructure under the USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program. Both of the USDA ReConnect awards went to rural incumbent local exchange carriers (RLECs).

These are the fourth and fifth awards in the program. The previous three awards went to a rural country and to two rural electric cooperatives. The awards are part of $600 million in broadband loans and grants for the Rural Broadband Pilot program created by Congress in 2018 for the ReConnect program, as reported by Telecompetitor.

In the awards announced today:

  • Nearly 8,750 rural households in North Carolina will benefit from a $27.5 million grant. Star Telephone Membership Corporation of Clinton, N.C., will use the funds to build and deploy a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband network capable of transmission rates of at least 100 Mbps. The funded service area includes 8,749 households, 19 businesses, and 10 educational facilities, as well as three critical community facilities.
  • More than 300 rural Oklahoma households will benefit from a $4.2 million USDA loan to develop high-speed broadband infrastructure to create or improve rural e-Connectivity. Oklahoma Western Telephone Company will use the funding to deploy a fiber to the home (FTTH) broadband network capable of simultaneous transmission rates of at least 100 Mbps.

The ReConnect program was opened to a wide range of potential participants, including state and local governments and non-profit organizations, as well as for-profit corporations, limited liability companies, cooperatives and Native American tribes.

In all, the program plans to award:

  • $200 million in grants, with a requirement for 25% in matching funds
  • $200 million in 50% grant/50% loan combinations
  • $200 million in low-interest loans

“Our core mission at USDA is to increase rural prosperity, and this mission cannot be achieved without addressing the digital divide our rural communities face due to a lack of high-speed broadband internet connection,” the USDA said, in a prepared statement about the North Carolina award.

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