The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Pilot Program has invested $3.2 million to promote broadband services to unserved and underserved rural areas of North Carolina. The USDA ReConnect CARES Act grant goes to French Broad Electric Membership Corporation, which will use the grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network connecting 4,056 people, 189 farms, 64 businesses and two fire stations in Madison County.

The funding is part of the $100 million to extend the ReConnect Pilot Program that was allocated under the CARES Act that was passed in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eleven applications for Round Two grants were received when the new funding was injected into the program. The grants are aimed at organizations that missed out in the initial phase as long as they applied to cover the same footprint.

“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now – as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency. Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a press release about the USDA ReConnect CARES Act grant.

Earlier this month, the USDA  announced a much bigger grant — $16 million — for the Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association. The funding will be used to deploy an FTTP network connecting 2,082 people, 331 farms, 32 businesses, a post office and six fire stations in rural Mississippi.

Round 1 of the program was completed in May. In all, the USDA awarded 82 awards in 34 states and territories totaling $744,303,168. The awards were divided between grants, loans, and grant/loan combinations.

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