By Dr. Carrie Castille, Louisiana State Director, USDA Rural Development
Rural broadband e-Connectivity is the digital superhighway connecting rural America to today’s information-driven global economy. Just as rural electrification and the deployment of rural telephone networks began to revolutionize the United States in the 1930s, we anticipate a significant transformation for rural America through e-Connectivity.
In order to safeguard America’s economic competitiveness, it is imperative that we ensure all citizens can access this world of opportunity. The challenge facing our country is connecting the 46 million people who live in rural America, which constitutes over 70% of the land in this country, to this world of opportunity.
Lack of quality e-Connectivity means rural Americans cannot reach full productivity in the workplace, children cannot obtain modern education at school, access to quality healthcare suffers, and our agricultural community cannot access technologies that allow farmers and ranchers to be more competitive in the global marketplace.
The enhancement of technology in the field of agriculture has provided never-before-seen opportunities to farmers and ranchers across the globe. Here at USDA in Louisiana, we intend to ensure our farmers can access these technologies thanks to the deployment of quality high-speed internet services.
Of the many tools that agriculture producers have available to them, precision agriculture has the greatest potential to use data and research to respond to the variability in crops in order to optimize returns on inputs, while also preserving resources. Precision farming also requires a speedy internet connection. The time spent downloading information, or uploading data, could result in the loss of substantial financial resources. It is important to me that our farmers, while optimizing returns on inputs, can also maximize their return on investments, and that is where quality e-Connectivity comes into play.
To ensure that our agriculture producers are fully connected, the newly released ReConnect Loan and Grant Program (or ReConnect for short) is now available. The ReConnect program offers three distinct categories of funding, all three with substantial resources, for broadband infrastructure to connect rural farms to modern technology. The three categories of funding under ReConnect are: a 100% grant, a 50% loan/50% grant, and a 100% loan. Each category has approximately $200 million available for application.
The ReConnect program can be used to construct, improve, and acquire facilities and equipment needed to provide quality service in eligible rural areas. Eligible areas are rural areas with populations of 20,000 or less. Eligible applicants must have the capacity to supply retail broadband to customers within their network. For additional information, including eligibility, mapping systems, and how to apply, please visit the ReConnect website at https://www.usda.gov/reconnect.
It is most important to me to keep you updated and informed with the opportunities that can assist you with your operations. I look forward to hearing from you and we will continue to work with our partners to ensure our agricultural producers achieve rural prosperity. Agriculture is a key component in ensuring the success of rural America. I stand in solidarity with you in ensuring you have access to reliable and affordable broadband. To let us know how we can best serve your needs, please contact me at email@example.com or (318) 473-7921.