The U.S. Department of Agriculture has begun accepting applications this week for $1.15 billion it is making available in Round 4 of the ReConnect Program funding.
The funding pool consists of $150 million in loans, $700 million in grants and $300 million in grant/loan combinations.
The goal of the program and the infusion of funding is to help provide high speed Internet for all Americans. The department began accepting applications on September 6. The deadline is November 2.
“High-speed internet is an important part of USDA Rural Development’s work with rural communities,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release about ReConnect Round 4. “Reliable high-speed internet opens the world’s marketplace to rural business owners. It enables them to expand their businesses and give more jobs and opportunities to people in their own community.”
The USDA was allotted $1.9 billion for this round of funding by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which also is known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. A USDA spokesperson told Telecompetitor in August that the current round would only award $1.15 billion, with the rest being pushed to a later round.
The program is open to providers in areas where 100 Mbps downloads and 20 Mbps upload speeds are not available. To be eligible, a provider must commit to building an infrastructure capable of providing this level of service to every location in its proposed service area.
USDA has made several changes for ReConnect Round 4. They include:
- Allowing applicants to serve areas where at least 50% of households lack sufficient access to high-speed internet.
- Adding a funding category for projects where 90% of households lack sufficient access to high-speed internet. No matching funds will be required for applications submitted in this category.
- Matching fund waivers will be made for five other categories: Alaska Native Corporations; Tribal governments; projects proposing to provide service in colonies; projects proposing to serve persistent poverty counties and projects proposing to provide service in socially vulnerable communities.
Entities gaining funding will be required to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) under which qualifying low-income households can get monthly discounts of as much as $30 per month or $75 on Tribal Lands.