Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced new rules to better target Community Connect broadband grants to areas where they are needed the most. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) remains focused on carrying out its mission, despite a time of significant budget uncertainty. Today’s announcement is one part of the Department’s efforts to strengthen the rural economy.
“These rules give communities better access to the benefits that broadband service provides,” Vilsack said. “The Obama Administration is working to ensure that rural residents share in the opportunities provided by modern Internet service.”
USDA Rural Development’s Community Connect Grant program serves rural communities where broadband service is least likely to be available, but where it can make a tremendous difference in the quality of life for citizens.
· Simplify the application process by requiring a single project summary and map.
· Allow grant applicants to use a USDA web-based mapping tool to define their proposed service area. The old rules did not accommodate some of the most rural communities, which often are not Census-designated places or were not recognized by a commercial atlas.
· Give grant applicants more flexibility on the types of resources, in-kind services and monetary contributions that can be used to meet the 15 percent matching fund requirement.
· Allow USDA to consider giving funding priority to projects in:
Ø persistent poverty counties;
Ø communities experiencing population declines;
Ø the most rural areas.
USDA’s Rural Utilities Service plans to publish information on Community Connect funding opportunities, including application deadlines and the amount of assistance available, in the Federal Register soon.
In addition to Community Connect grants, USDA Rural Development provides loans and loan guarantees to help finance the construction of rural broadband networks.
Since its inception, the Community Connect program has funded 229 projects with USDA investments of $122 million. In 2012, USDA assistance led to improved broadband service nationwide for nearly 65,000 rural households, businesses, and community institutions – such as libraries, schools and first responders. Information about the rules is available at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-05-03/pdf/2013-10502.pdf.
USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, has a portfolio of programs designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America.
USDA has made a concerted effort to deliver results for the American people, even as USDA implements sequestration – the across-the-board budget reductions mandated under terms of the Budget Control Act. USDA has already undertaken historic efforts since 2009 to save more than $828 million in taxpayer funds through targeted, common-sense budget reductions. These reductions have put USDA in a better position to carry out its mission, while implementing sequester budget reductions in a fair manner that causes as little disruption as possible.