USDA awards loans to improve broadband in rural Midwest

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The Agriculture Department awarded almost $40 million in loans Aug. 15 that will help bring new or improved broadband Internet service to some of the nation’s most rural areas.

Funded through the USDA Rural Utilities Service’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan Program, the improved service will go to parts of Minnesota, North Dakota and Texas.

Continuing a multi-million dollar grant made in 2010 to bring fiber-to-the-premises service to central North Dakota, the USDA awarded an additional $4.7 million loan to bring the same service to two towns in the eastern part of the state. A portion of that money will also go to Griggs County to improve its current exchange system for more than 600 of its subscribers.

Also in North Dakota, USDA awarded an $8.5 million loan to the Red River Rural Telephone Association, which will lay more than 140 miles of fiber-optic cable throughout towns on the state’s eastern border that will extend into western Minnesota.

With the loan, the telephone association will be able to complete the fiber-to-the-premises network project designed to “meet current and future requirements for voice, video and high-speed data services to subscribers,” according to a release.

In Texas, the USDA gave the Community Telephone Company a $26.4 million loan to replace an old system with a fiber-to-the-premises network. The company will also replace six exchanges in the northern central part of the state.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a release that access to broadband was essential to a rural community’s economic strength.

“It improves access to education and quality health care, and it leads to new jobs and business opportunities,” Vilsack said. “Broadband is part of everyday life in most of America and vital for economic success in the 21st century.”

In 2012, President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing the White House Rural Council, which is tasked with addressing challenges in rural America and building on the administration’s rural economic strategy.

Last month, Vilsack and the council announced a $10 billion Rural Infrastructure Opportunity fund that would join the department’s more than $200 billion in direct and guaranteed loans for its rural development program.

The opportunity fund focuses on investments for hospitals, schools, water systems, energy projects, food systems and broadband expansion.

“Rural America cannot be left out,” Vilsack said.

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broadband, Minnesota, North Dakota, rural, Tech, Texas, Tom Vilsack
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