Thursday, Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, announces that USDA is spending $62 million to expand broadband in rural Alabama.
“This morning the USDA is announcing an investment of 62 million dollars to improve access to high speed internet in Alabama,” Aderholt said. “This is part of money my office and I helped secure in 2018 as part of a $600 million dollar investment in rural American broadband. Thanks to President Trump and Secretary Perdue for sharing my goal of expanding access. This money will be going to DeKalb, Jackson, Colbert, Walker, Fayette, Lamar, Winston, Marion and Franklin Counties. U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald “DJ” LaVoy announced that USDA has invested $62.3 million in high-speed broadband infrastructure that will create or improve e-Connectivity for more than 8,000 rural households, 57 farms, 44 businesses, 17 educational facilities, 14 critical community facilities and three health care facilities in rural Alabama.
This is one of many funding announcements in the first round of USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program investments.
“Today’s announcement is fantastic news for Alabama,” Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) said. “This significant investment from USDA of $62.3 million in high-speed broadband infrastructure across rural Alabama is critical for economic development, education, healthcare, and quality of life in our state.”
“Beyond connecting us to our friends and family, high-speed broadband internet connectivity, or e-Connectivity, is a necessity, not an amenity, to do business, access opportunities in education and receive specialized health care in rural America today,” LaVoy said. “Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural communities in deploying this critical infrastructure, because we know when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.
“When the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee created the Re-Connect program back in 2018 under my leadership, our goal was to help expand broadband to rural areas and help close the ‘digital divide’ that isolates so many parts of rural America,” Aderholt added. “I believed then, and continue to believe now, that the expansion, maintenance and upgrading of broadband service should be of highest priority. This program is beginning to pay dividends in rural Alabama and America. I want to thank the men and women of the United States Department of Agriculture and, of course, Secretary Perdue, for sharing this goal of expanding access.”
The Tombigbee Electric Cooperative, Inc. will use a $29.5 million 50 percent loan-grant combination to develop an All-Dielectric Self-Supporting (ADSS) fiber network in unserved areas of Marion, Lamar, Fayette, Franklin, Winston and Walker counties. This investment is expected to reach 2,152 households, 20 farms, 15 businesses, 10 critical community facilities, five educational facilities and one health care facility.
“Expanding freedom FIBER broadband to residents across northwest Alabama meets a critical e-Connectivity need,” said Steve Foshee, president and CEO of Tombigbee Communications. “From students having the ability to complete their schoolwork, to our neighbors in need of receiving adequate healthcare, freedom FIBER broadband will help improve the lives and communities of rural northwest Alabama. Thanks to our partners at USDA, Tombigbee will help close the digital divide, advance our communities and allow rural America to flourish.”
Freedom FIBER currently is connected in Hamilton and Winfield, with construction underway in Haleyville, Hackleburg, Sulligent and Vernon. After receiving a $2.98 million grant under USDA’s Community Connect Broadband Grant Program in May 2018, Tombigbee Communications expanded service to Brilliant, a rural community in northwest Alabama.
Millry Telephone Company, Inc. will use a $28.2 million 50 percent loan-grant combination to develop a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in Choctaw and Washington counties. This investment is expected to reach 3,797 households, 20 farms, 15 businesses, 11 educational facilities, four critical community facilities and two health care centers.
Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative, Inc. will use a $2 million loan to develop a FTTH network in Jackson and DeKalb counties. This investment is expected to reach 1,676 homes and one educational facility.
National Telephone of Alabama, Inc. will use a $2.7 million 50 percent loan-grant combination to develop a fiber-to-the premises (FTTP) network in Colbert County. This investment is expected to reach 378 rural households, 17 farms and 14 businesses.
In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the rules of the program, called “ReConnect,” including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America. USDA received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding across all three ReConnect Program funding products: 100 percent loan, 100 percent grant, and loan-grant combinations. USDA is reviewing applications and announcing approved projects on a rolling basis. Additional investments in all three categories will be made in the coming weeks.
These grants, loans and combination funds enable the federal government to partner with the private sector and rural communities to build modern broadband infrastructure in areas with insufficient internet service. Insufficient service is defined as connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload.
In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities.
In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force.
“Thank you President Trump for your ongoing commitment to improving the lives of rural Alabamians,” Byrne said. “I also offer my appreciation to Secretary Sonny Perdue for his partnership and support of rural Alabama and to my friend and colleague Rep. Robert Aderholt for his leadership on the Re-Connect grant program. Together with this Administration we are doing great things for rural America.”
USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.
Congressman Robert Aderholt is serving his twelfth term representing Alabama’s Fourth Congressional District.