The U.S. Department of Agrculture has awarded $3.3 million to provide a fixed broadband network to Pennington and Lawrence counties in South Dakota. The USDA ReConnect grant went to SDN Communications.

The footprint of the grant covers 13 square miles and potentially impacts 275 people, 14 businesses and two farms.

The first phase of the ReConnect program initially was budgeted to provide $600 million for rural broadband, evenly divided between loans, grants and combinations of the two. The program has far outdone that initial goal. So far, 79 awards in 33 states or territories have been made for a total of $721,178,950.

USDA ReConnect Grant
The ReConnect Program is expanding in a couple of ways. An extra $100 million was added in the CARES Act, which was passed in March to help alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. That money was meant to approve grant requests for areas for which grants initially were declined. The USDA has received 11 round two applications eligible through the CARES Act.

The second phase of the program is underway at the same time. On April 20 – five days after the application window closed — the USDA said that it had received 172 applications for a total of $157 billion for that round.

It had been apparent that there would be a gap of some sort between the first and second iterations of the ReConnect project. The advent of the pandemic, however, changed that. Indeed, the South Dakota USDA ReConnect grant announcement was the fourth this month. Late last week, the USDA announced awards of $71 million in Oklahoma and Kansas and, separately, $2 million in New Hampshire. Earlier in the week, the USDA announced a $23 million award for New Mexico.

That move, along with concerted efforts by the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge – which has been extended through the end of June — are two major pillars of the government’s response to the crisis.

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