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US agriculture secretary announces $2.9 million federal grant for rural broadband

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue joined Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, in announcing a $2.9 million e-Connectivity Grant for Brilliant, Alabama.

The $2.9 million grant will bring e-Connectivity to rural Marion County, Alabama, through the Tombigbee Electric Cooperative, a Great Depression-era initiative.

“In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of rural electrification and what it meant to people in those communities,” Perdue said. “FDR said it was ‘a modern necessity of life, not a luxury. That necessity ought to be found in every village, in every house, and on every farm in every part of the United States.’ Though he was talking about electricity, the same can be said for broadband Internet access today. To compete in today’s global marketplace, we must remove the infrastructure gaps in rural communities,”

Perdue said. “This grant is in keeping with President Trump’s directive that we use all available tools to increase prosperity in rural America. As we pursue economic expansion, we recognize that broadband e-Connectivity is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity.”

“Thrilled to be joining @SecretarySonny & @Robert_Aderholt for a major broadband expansion announcement in Hamilton, Alabama today!” Ivey wrote on Twitter. “The internet is vital to all aspects of modern life so it remains a priority of mine to increase access across our state.” ·

“Today I welcomed Secretary Sonny Perdue of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Guin, AL where we discussed how important agriculture industries are to the state of Alabama as well as the nation,” Aderholt said. “Agriculture has always and will remain our nation’s most important provider.”

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Tombigbee Electric Cooperative will use the USDA Community Connect Grant to deploy a Fiber-to-the-Premises network in the community of Brilliant and in surrounding areas of Marion County.

This project will connect nearly 500 households to high-speed broadband as well as businesses and essential community services in the area. In addition, Tombigbee Electric Cooperative will establish a community center within the service area where residents can access the internet free of charge.

“Modern infrastructure is a necessity–not an amenity–for any community to thrive,” Perdue said. “Infrastructure is a foundation to provide a high quality of life and economic opportunities. USDA is proud to partner with local rural communities to help address their infrastructure needs.”

The program is expected to become a model for rural areas across the nation.

“It’s time to fix this digital divide,” said state Rep. David Standridge, R-Hayden. “We can no longer travel the path of the ‘haves and have nots.’ Access to high speed internet is essential to our Alabama citizens whether they live in a big city or on the family farm.”

Standridge, who chairs the Alabama House Rural Caucus, said that he was honored to join Perdue, Aderholt, and Ivey, all of which played pivotal roles in securing the funding, for the announcement.

“Rural Broadband is essential for economic development, education, and health care for our rural areas to prosper,” Standridge added. “Our businesses and citizens must have access to high speed internet in today’s society.”

State Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, was also present for the announcement.

“President Trump and US Agriculture Commissioner Sonny Perdue introduces America and Northwest Alabama to high speed internet with $600 million in funding starting at Hamilton, Alabama,” Wadsworth said. “Many Mayors and Clerks from the 14th District present. High Speed internet is rural Alabama’s gateway to future growth.”

USDA’s Community Connect Grant Program provides grants to bring high-speed e-Connectivity to rural communities where there is not yet a business case for private providers to deliver service.

USDA is accepting applications through May 14 in the longstanding Community Connect program that has been in existence since 2002. Grants from $100,000 to $3 million are available to state and local governments, federally-recognized tribes, nonprofits and for-profit corporations.

The funds must be used to provide broadband service at a minimum bandwidth of 25 megabits downstream and three megabits upstream, which are the benchmark speeds the Federal Communications Commission has adopted for broadband connectivity. Awardees must offer free broadband service to all critical community facilities in their proposed service areas for two years and provide a community center with free broadband service for two years.

For more details on this grant opportunity, see page 11494 of the March 15 Federal Register.

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