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USDA funding expands broadband access to nearly six million Americans

Staff writer |
USDA Rural Utilities Service Administrator Brandon McBride announced that nearly six million Americans who live and work in rural areas now have access to new or improved high-speed internet service.

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That was possible thanks to USDA funding provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Two hundred fifty-four Recovery Act broadband projects financed by USDA's Rural Utilities Service totaling $2.9 billion are providing broadband service in 44 states and American Samoa.

More than half the infrastructure projects were completed under budget, resulting in the return of nearly $113 million to the U.S. Treasury. The measure's five-year period for funding broadband projects expired at the end of the 2015 fiscal year.

These projects have brought high-speed Internet access to 260,000 rural households, 17,500 businesses and 1,900 community facilities. The service providers estimate that completed projects could provide access for more than 5.8 million rural consumers.

In Burnsville, N.C., Country Cablevision now provides 2,000 homes with broadband speeds of up to 100 megabytes per second. Businesses can receive up to 1 gigabit per second. The new service allows troops overseas to have live video connections with their friends and families, and it makes it easier for virtual visits at the local nursing home.

In Scott County, Tenn., 21,000 households now benefit from broadband because of USDA Recovery Act financing provided to the Highland Telephone Cooperative. Residents have compared the service improvements to "going from a gravel road to the interstate." Students now earn college degrees online, and businesses operate faster and more efficiently.

Building broadband infrastructure in rural and remote areas can be challenging.

In communities in Bristol Bay and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in Alaska, for example, cable was pulled by hand under a frozen river to make broadband available to Native Alaskan villages for the first time. As a result, area residents now have expanded access to health care services.

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