WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced in January that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will expand efforts to bring farmers, rural residents and businesses greater access to improved telecommunication technology through the financing of more than $1.4 billion in loans and loan guarantees to rural telecommunications providers. In addition, Veneman announced that President Bush will propose spending $196 million for the program in its FY2004 budget.

In Response, the Wireless Communications Association (WCA) and License Exempt Alliance (LEA) has launched the Rural Broadband Task Force, which will educate the wireless industry of the need for continued growth of rural broadband. The Task Force will assist WCA and LEA members to meet government funding criteria for rural development programs.

"In his message to the American people last evening, the President discussed the importance of continued economic growth and opportunity for all Americans," said Veneman. "The expansion of this technology initiative will better equip our rural communities to enhance opportunities for economic development. These tools will help farmers, rural businesses, students and health care recipients, with new technologies and telecommunications services."

The Secretary also announced that the Administration will propose investing $177 million in FY 2004, an increase of $44.5 million, to upgrade its County Service Centers, most of which will be used to provide Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies to these offices, allowing farmers and ranchers more access to satellite mapping and planting information. County Service Centers are located throughout the U.S. and utilized by producers and other constituents to receive vital programs and services administered by USDA.

Guidelines for the program and information on how to apply for loans can be obtained by visiting USDA's web at http://www.usda.gov/.