USDA Announced $16M Grant to Provide Broadband to Rural America

USDA Announced $16M Grant to Provide Broadband to Rural America

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The internet isn’t a privilege, it’s a right!

Well, maybe we won’t go that far. But, the government does want high-speed internet for all. The USDA announced today that it is providing 16 million dollars in grants to “rural telecommunications equipment” in 25 states. This step is part of the Obama Administration’s initiative to bring 99 percent of students broadband internet during the next five years.

“Expanding access to broadband will greatly improve educational and economic opportunities for rural residents,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Broadband gives students more courses to choose from, more skills to use in high-paying jobs, and more opportunities to enroll in colleges and universities offering the best education available today. We must make needed investments to connect our rural residents to the 21st century technology that will help them compete in a global economy.”

The grants are aimed at students, and are given by the USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant program. While aimed at students, the grants provide to rural hospitals, clinics, schools and libraries for equipment and technical assistance.

This isn’t the first time the government is providing funding for expanding broadband. In fact, this latest announcement is a drop in the nearly 150 million-dollar bucket of grants already provided to rural communities. In the fiscal year of 2013, over $305 million dollars of loans were given to rural communities to expand broadband, and more than just students are feeling the effects. Farmers are feeling it, too.

“Access to high-speed internet can increase total farm revenue in two ways,” says a report from the National Agricultural & Rural Development Policy Center, “by allowing farmers to search for new customers for their output, which may lead to an increase in output produced; or by enabling farmers to find buyers willing to pay a higher price than what they currently charge.”

According to a 2012 study in Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, “farmers utilize the Internet primarily for accessing weather reports, e-mail, market reports, and agricultural news.” High-speed Internet also means easier access to big data sources, farming applications and data organizers such as AgSquared, PrecisionHawk, and other farming management software. The study also found that farmers who “were younger, farmed larger farms, and those who currently use the Internet but do not have Farmers,” have a willingness to pay more in property taxes to gain broadband infrastructure.

High-speed broadband access is as vital to the educational and economic fortunes of rural America,” said the USDA news release announcing the grant, “[just as] as electricity was in the 1930s and 1940s.”

If that analogy holds true, Netflix might be a great investment.

FEATURED PHOTO: Meredith Nutting/Flickr

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