USDA Grants Could Bring Broadband to Southeastern Texas

The U.S. Department of Agriculture may allocate $19 million towards rural broadband in southeastern Texas. The funding comes from USDA’s Broadband Reconnect Program, which seeks to bridge the digital divide.

by Joseph Brown, The Huntsville Item / February 28, 2020
Shutterstock

(TNS) — A proposal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide $19 million for rural broadband could help almost 7,000 rural households, 46 farms, 32 pre-subscribed businesses, 19 critical community facilities and 15 educational facilities in Texas,

A large portion of the grant will be provided to MidSouth Electric Co-Op out of Navasota, which serves nearly 25,000 consumers in and around Walker, Grimes, Brazos, Madison, Montgomery and Waller counties. The $6 million grant will be used to deploy fiber across the co-op’s network of utility poles, enhancing electric reliability and opening the door to expanded rural broadband access for MidSouth consumer-members.

The funds are part of the USDA Broadband Reconnect Program, which was created to bridge the digital divide in rural America.

“Many of my constituents in the 8th Congressional District of Texas live in rural communities, and are affected by the lack of broadband connection,” Congressman Kevin Brady (R- TX 8th) said. “This new funding will bridge the digital divide and help my constituents by improving access to telehealth services and promoting economic development. I was proud to advocate on behalf of MidSouth’s grant application and I look forward to seeing the positive impact this program will have on the rural communities in Texas.”

As part of this project, MidSouth will install a fiber-optic cable on the poles that are currently within the co-op’s rights-of-way.

As an added benefit of this fiber installation, MidSouth will be able to begin providing reliable fiber Internet service to our communities. The service will be optional and will follow strict build out plans. Anyone interested in true fiber Internet service is encouraged to pre-register at midsouthfiber.com to express their interest.

“As technology advances, we continue working to make our distribution system smarter and more robust.” MidSouth CEO Kerry Kelton. “Being able to add fiber across our utility network will allow us to modernize operations and enhance our awareness about what’s happening across our system. This enhances our response times during outages and improve reliability. In addition, it will open the door to expanded rural broadband access for over 25,000 MidSouth members.”

In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to the USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, Agriculture Secretary Sonny 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. USDA received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding across all three ReConnect Program funding products: 100 percent loan, 100 percent grant, and loan-grant combinations. USDA is reviewing applications and announcing approved projects on a rolling basis. Additional investments in all three categories will be made in the coming weeks.

©2020 The Huntsville Item (Huntsville, Texas) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs