Electric Co-ops Welcome USDA Changes to the ReConnect Broadband Funding Program

ARLINGTON, Va. – National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jim Matheson today applauded U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and the department’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) for making much-needed changes to the ReConnect broadband program for its third round of funding.

USDA will begin accepting ReConnect round three applications on November 24 for up to $1.15 billion in loans and grants to expand the availability of broadband in rural communities. More information can be found here from USDA.

“Efforts to bridge the digital divide began nearly 25 years ago, yet millions of Americans remain sidelined and disconnected simply because of their zip code,” said Matheson. “In 2021, that’s unacceptable. We greatly appreciate USDA’s work to help spur rural broadband deployment, and their appropriate recognition of the need to make sure the program continues to serve those communities most in need of broadband. Significant changes to this new round of the ReConnect program will allow electric cooperatives and other broadband providers to offer service to many more unserved and underserved rural communities.”

ReConnect provides loans and grants to fund the construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.

During the third phase, RUS will make several noteworthy changes to the program advocated by NRECA, including:

  • Modifying the definition of a served area from areas with speeds of 10/1 Mbps to 100/20 Mbps. Whether an area already has this higher level of service is a key factor in determining its eligibility for a grant. 
  • Prioritizing applications from cooperatives, tribes, non-profits and local government entities that are not motived by profit.
  • Requiring networks funded by the program to be capable of delivering symmetrical speeds of 100/100 Mbps.
  • Allowing areas that previously received federal broadband funding to be eligible to participate in the auction if they lack 100/20 Mbps service.
  • Prioritizing applications to areas that lack 25/3 Mbps.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national trade association representing nearly 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape. As local businesses built by the consumers they serve, electric cooperatives have meaningful ties to rural America and invest $12 billion annually in their communities.