Tornado-Damaged Oklahoma Town, 17 Others Get USDA Broadband Grants

A pool of more than $103 million is being split among ISPs serving 18 rural communities.

by / August 24, 2011
Piles of debris were all that was left of Tushka, Okla., when a tornado hit April 14. Photo by Jeannie Warner/FEMA Jeannie Warner/FEMA

An Internet provider serving Tushka, Okla., which was damaged by a tornado in April, is receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) along with 17 more rural communities in an effort to bring broadband to underserved areas.

A pool of more than $103 million is being split among ISPs serving far-flung locations such as Manifest, La.; Vina, Ala.; and Panther, W.Va. Some of the 18 communities are poverty-stricken, according to the USDA.

The initiative is through the USDA’s Rural Development Community Connect program, which provides grants to rural, economically challenged communities. Funds can be used to construct, acquire or lease facilities to deploy broadband to community facilities such as schools and public safety buildings, as well as residents and businesses in the community. Each project requires a matching contribution and must serve an area where broadband isn’t available. The grantee must agree to provide local community centers in the selected towns with at least 10 computers which are accessible free for two years.

“Without broadband, rural communities, agricultural producers and business owners face a substantial challenge,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement this week. “These loans and grants will bring the benefits of broadband, including new educational, business and public health and safety opportunities, to residents living in some of the most remote parts of our nation.”

Wichita Online Inc., will use the USDA program grant to provide broadband to Tushka. A tornado that struck the community on April 14 killed two people, injured 25 and destroyed or damaged several buildings in the community. The broadband grants are intended to help the recovery.

“It has proven a challenge for rural people to be able to connect up with the rest of the world by Internet,” Northern Oklahoma Development Authority Executive Director Larry Tipps told the Enid News and Eagle on Tuesday, Aug. 23.

This week Vilsack also announced $90 million in loan funding for five broadband infrastructure projects in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska and Texas.