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USDA Announces Funding for Advanced Communications Technology in Rural Areas

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, May 22, 2014 – U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development (USDA-RD) Alaska State Director Jim Nordlund today announced that USDA is accepting applications for grants to enhance telecommunications and broadcast services in rural areas.

   "This funding will help small, rural communities across the country gain access to communications technologies to improve health, education and other services," Nordlund said.  "This funding will open doors to the global marketplace and deliver specialized medical care and educational services.  It will also ensure that public television stations can fully convert to digital signals and transmit public safety, health, educational and cultural programming in isolated areas."

   The funding is available from the Community Connect Grant Program, the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program, and the Public Television Station Digital Transition Grant Program.

   Through the Community Connect Grant Program, USDA plans to provide up to $13 million nationally, to fund broadband in unserved areas to support economic growth and deliver enhanced educational, health care and public safety services.  Awardees must serve an area where broadband does not exist, provide a community center with broadband access, and offer broadband service to all residential and business customers.  Details are on page 29405 of today’s Federal Register.

   USDA has had many successes through this program.  Since it was created in 2003, USDA has approved more than $142 million in more than 240 Community Connect projects nationally, to bring broadband service to rural communities that lacked it. 

   For example, in 2013 USDA provided a Community Connect Broadband grant to the isolated Alaska Native Community of Saint Paul. Located in Alaska's Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea, the town of about 500 is installing a modern system, and the Native-owned firm that will operate it estimates that in the next five years Internet access will result in saving or creating an estimated additional 44 full time jobs including the five existing jobs on the island. The project will also support 23 construction and clerical jobs.

   Also in a notice in today’s Federal Register, USDA is making available up to $19.3 million in Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program grants nationally, to fund access to rural education, training and health care resources. The DLT program finances telecommunications-enabled equipment and advanced technologies for people who live and work in rural areas. Since 2009, USDA has invested almost $150 million nationally in the program. These investments complement other USDA efforts to improve rural communications.

   Details of Distance Learning funding being made available today are on page 29399 of the Federal Register.

   In the Public Television Station Digital Transition Grant Program, USDA will provide up to $2 million as part of the Department’s continued support of rural telecommunications and broadcast services.  Funds can be used to acquire, lease or install equipment or software to complete the transition to digital broadcast signals.

   While rural stations broadcast their main transmitter signal digitally, many also have translators serving small communities or isolated areas, and these still need to transition from analog to digital.  Some rural areas also need fill-in translators, in cases when the signal reception from a main transmitter is lost. These Public Television grants will support those stations to ensure all rural households and businesses receive public television station transmissions.  Details are on page 29409 of the Federal Register.

   USDA will offer special consideration to Community Connect and Distance Learning and Telemedicine applications that contain at least one end-user site within a trust area or a Tribal jurisdictional area.

   President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities.

      USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack are committed to a smarter use of Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families in rural communities.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

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