Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
$63 Million in USDA ReConnect Funds Head to Rural Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Mississippi
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced it has awarded $63 million through its ReConnect Program to expand access to high-speed Internet service in rural parts of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Mississippi.
The ReConnect program provides grants (and loans) to applicants in eligible rural areas without access to broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload. All projects awarded ReConnect grants are required to build networks that can deliver symmetrical 100 Mbps to every location in its proposed service area. This is the third round ReConnect funding and, according to the USDA website, so far the program has invested in 101 projects across the country, totaling a little more than $1.6 billion in new broadband infrastructure investments.
It's just the latest good news for broadband-starved rural areas left on the wrong side of the digital divide as national providers tend to consider it not profitable enough to justify the cost of building new networks in sparsely populated communities. To date, ReConnect funds have been used to serve nearly 62,000 households. And, in addition to the most recent ReConnect grant awards – as well as funds disbursed through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) – the $42.5 billion BEAD program from the bipartisan infrastructure bill is still on its way, with each state and U.S. territory expected to get its share of BEAD funds this summer that will mostly target rural communities.
The recent USDA announcement includes four grants. Two of the recipients are cooperatives and two are local private Internet service providers (ISPs). All four projects will be to provide fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) networks with each committed to participate in Affordable Connectivity Programs (ACP) to help ensure low-income households will be able to afford the service. In total, the four projects aim to connect almost 9,000 households, 500 farms, and 200 businesses.
Providing telecommunication service since 1951, McDonough Telephone Cooperative (MDTC) recently stepped into the “future-proof” world of providing fiber Internet service to some of its members in 2022. Now, with the $18 million grant awarded through the ReConnect program, that will be enough to pay for nearly all of a $26 million project to extend fiber service to four different rural counties in west central Illinois. The project will pass 1,500 households, 274 farms and 41 businesses across Hancock, Henderson, McDonough and Warren counties.
McDonough’s residential service offerings includes standard 100 Mbps symmetrical service for $65/month; symmetrical 200 Mbps for $75/month; symmetrical 300 Mbps for $85/month; symmetrical 500 Mbps for $105/month; and symmetrical gig speed service for $125/month.
To serve the two rural counties of Chippewa and Mackinac in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Alpha Enterprises Limited was awarded a $19.5 million grant to cover all budgeted costs to deploy fiber that will pass just over 1,000 households, 19 businesses, and 10 farms. In addition to building the network, Alpha has also agreed to participate in the Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Program to help ensure low-income households in those areas will be able to take advantage of the fiber service. It’s not clear how much the pricing and service tiers will be as Alpha Enterprises website does not list its prices and services but instead advises prospective subscribers to “call us for a quote.”
Looking to further chop down the digital divide in rural northern Minnesota, the 70-year-old Paul Bunyan Rural Telephone Cooperative was awarded a $10 million grant that will pay the bulk of the costs for building a $13 million fiber network, which will connect over 3,500 households, 71 businesses, 35 farms, and two public schools in across three counties: Hubbard, Itasca and St. Louis.
New subscribers will be able to access the Paul Bunyan’s “Gigazone” packages, which offers prices that range from 250 Mbps symmetrical service for $60/month; a symmetrical gig for $80/month up to symmetrical 6 gigabits per second service for $300/month.
The Paul Bunyan Cooperative is no stranger to Community Nets. Find our previous coverage of the coop here.
For three counties bereft of broadband in northwest Mississippi, help is on the way. Uplink Internet was awarded a $15 million grant to cover all budgeted costs to build out fiber service in Coahoma, Quitman, and Tunica counties. The project will connect 2,340 people, 143 farms, 45 businesses and a public school to high-speed Internet in northwest Mississippi, which the USDA considers to be “socially vulnerable communities” – all three of which are part of the Rural Partners Network, an “all-of-government initiative that combines federal, state and local resources to address specific needs in rural and tribal communities across the country.”
Uplink will offer basic 100 Mbps fiber service for $55/month; 200 Mbps service for $65/month; 500 Mbps service for $75 and gig speed service for $100/month.
Inline image of Paul Bunyan statue courtesy of Flickr user Lorie Shaull, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)