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ReConnect Program Allocates $46.5 Million for High-Speed Broadband in Rural Alaska

Oct 14, 2020 | Government, News, Telecom & Tech

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $46.5 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Alaska. This investment is part of the $550 million Congress allocated to the second round of the ReConnect Program.

“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now—as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency. Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband,” US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said. “I am so proud of our rural communities who have been working day in and day out, just like they always do, producing the food and fiber America depends on. We need them more than ever during these trying times, and expanding access to this critical infrastructure will help ensure rural America prospers for years to come.”
 
AP&T Wireless Inc. will use a $21.5 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 225 people, 32 businesses, an educational facility, a post office, and a fire station to high-speed broadband internet in Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area.
 
Unicom Inc. will use a $25 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 7,441 people, 310 businesses, ten educational facilities, seven post offices, four fire stations, and a city hall to high-speed broadband internet in Kodiak Island Borough, Lake and Peninsula Borough, Aleutians East Borough, and Aleutians West Census Area.
 
The grants are matched by nearly $17 million contributed by the grant recipients, bringing the total investment to roughly $63 million. 
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“The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the shortcomings of not being connected, a familiar problem to many Alaskans for far too long. We must continue to help Alaskan communities have the telecommunications broadband infrastructure that is taken for granted elsewhere,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “The announcement of these two grants is incredibly exciting news for Southeast and the Aleutians, and will improve connectivity for families, businesses, schools, other critical community services, and so much more.”

“Gaining access to high-speed internet connectivity can be life-changing, especially for residents in rural Alaska where communication resources and infrastructure are most scarce,” said Senator Dan Sullivan. “Thousands more Alaskans across the state will finally experience a utility so many of us take for granted, one that has shown itself to be absolutely indispensable in the age of COVID-19. I appreciate that Secretary Perdue has made these funds available after our numerous discussions and correspondences in which I have called attention to the lack of broadband across our state.”

“Alaskans from our cities, rural areas, and Native villages all deserve access to high quality, reliable broadband,” said Congressman Don Young. “The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the urgent need for internet access across our state. At this very moment, countless students are distance learning; working parents may be using the internet to learn new skills to help them succeed in the workforce; and some of our most vulnerable populations are utilizing telehealth services. We must ensure that all communities in our state are connected and empowered to thrive. I am grateful to Secretary Perdue for making these crucially needed investments in Alaska, and I remain confident that high-speed internet access will not only help our families prosper, but prepare our economy to come out of this pandemic stronger than ever before.”

About ReConnect

In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On December 13, 2018, Secretary 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.
 
On April 20, 2020, USDA announced the Department has received 172 applications for $1.57 billion in Round Two of the ReConnect Program. The second round will enable USDA to implement innovative new solutions to rural connectivity by leveraging financial options with its partners and continuing the success of the first round of funding. The application window for Round Two closed on April 15.
 
In Round One of the ReConnect Program, USDA invested $698 million to bring high-speed broadband e-Connectivity to approximately 167,000 households, 17,000 rural small businesses and farms, and more than 500 healthcare centers, educational facilities, and critical community facilities located in thirty-three states. In Alaska, a $19 million ReConnect grant was awarded in 2019 to Cordova Telephone Cooperative to provide connectivity to 270 households in Yakutat, a project expected to be completed by the fall of 2021.
 
USDA received eleven Round Two ReConnect Program applications that are eligible for the $100 million Congress allocated to the program through the CARES Act.
 
To learn more about ReConnect Program eligibility, technical assistance, and recent announcements, visit www.usda.gov/reconnect.
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One factor that contributes to successful business operations is the ability to adapt to new situations; rare is the organization that flourishes without changing at all. This year, as we are all acutely aware by now, will go down in history for many, many things including the wide range of methods implemented by businesses as they adapted to the new landscape presented to them by COVID-19.

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