U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development received 53 applications requesting more than $635 million in loan-grant combination funding in the first round of the USDA ReConnect Pilot Program, the USDA announced this week. The USDA made $200 million available for loan-grant combination projects in the first round of funding.

As we earlier reported, awards will be made on the basis of a point system, which grants extra points for projects providing symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps. Other evaluation criteria include “how many” farms, businesses and healthcare and educational facilities a project will serve.

To be eligible for a 100% loan or 50% loan / 50% grant, the service area must be in a rural area where 90% of the households do not have sufficient broadband access. To be eligible for a 100% grant, the service area must be rural and 100% of the households must lack sufficient broadband access.

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The 53 received applications, which the USDA started to accept on March 29, came from rural areas across 33 states, representing 1,099 farms and 859 businesses. Though the loan-grant application process is closed, the government will still accept applications for low-interest loans through July 12.

Eligible applicants include state and local governments, Native American tribes, for- and non-profit entities, limited liability companies, and cooperative or mutual organizations.

The USDA Reconnect Program is designed to connect rural areas that currently have insufficient broadband service. Funds will be awarded to projects that have financially sustainable business models that will bring high-speed broadband to rural homes, businesses, farms, ranches and community facilities, such as first responders, health care sites and schools.

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