By Ken Ritter, The Associated Press
LAS VEGAS — The federal government is pledging $401 million in grants and loans to expand the reach and improve the speed of internet for rural residents, tribes and businesses in remote parts of 11 states from Alaska to Arkansas.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters Wednesday, ahead of the Thursday announcement, that farmers, store owners, schoolchildren and people seeking telehealth medical checkups will benefit from the ReConnect and Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee programs.
“Connectivity is critical to economic success in rural America,” Vilsack said in a statement tallying the number of people who could be helped at about 31,000 in states also including Colorado, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas.
The statement said the Department of Agriculture plans more spending on high-speed internet in coming weeks as part of a $65 billion Biden administration plan to expand affordable, high-speed internet to all communities in the U.S.
Vilsack said the programs will particularly help residents in what he called “persistent poverty counties,” where he said most have access to broadband, but about one in three don’t have high-speed networks needed for telemedicine and distance learning.
He said the goal was “to do what is necessary to make sure every rural resident, regardless of ZIP code has access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet.”