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Biden administration announces $400 million investment in high-speed internet for rural communities

By Maegan Vazquez, CNN

The Biden administration on Thursday announced it would be directing more than $400 million in loans and grants to support high-speed internet projects for rural communities — funding which is expected to reach about 31,000 families and businesses across 11 states.

“Rural communities are the backbone of our nation and have a broad impact on our economy, but for too long, rural communities have been left out or left behind and under-recognized for their contributions. We’re changing that, and it starts with making sure that rural communities are connected to affordable, reliable high-speed internet,” White House Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Coordinator Mitch Landrieu said on a call with reporters. “Thanks to the hard work of the President, (Agriculture Secretary Tom) Vilsack and the team at USDA Rural Development, our administration is providing more than $400 million in loans and grants to fund high-speed internet infrastructure for rural communities this week.”

Many rural areas across the country lack access to high-speed, affordable internet largely because installing the infrastructure isn’t worth the investment for internet service providers to take on. The new projects’ funding, which will come through the USDA ReConnect loan and grant program, is aimed at the construction, improvement and acquisition of facilities and equipment to support rural broadband access. Additional announcements for program funding are expected over the course of the summer.

Vilsack said that the $401 million in funding that is being announced today will support 20 projects in 11 states — Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for us over the course of the next several months to roll out over a billion dollars of investment in connecting people to a better and more modern future,” he added, highlighting how connectivity will give support farmers, expand access to telemedicine in remote areas and expand access to distance learning opportunities.

Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said on the call that a portion of the funding will go to projects in her state, including $27.1 million grant awarded to Uprise Fiber, which “will go to improve broadband access in rural Lovelock, Nevada.”

The project, she said, will connect some 4,000 people, 130 businesses, 22 farms and seven public schools across rural Nevada to high-speed internet.

Earlier this month, the White House announced that 1 million American households have signed up for broadband internet credits through the Affordable Connectivity Program since the introduction of in May.

Through the program, eligible participants can receive a $30 monthly credit toward the cost of their internet service plan, or a $75 monthly credit for households living on Tribal lands. The administration estimates that a staggering 40% of American households are eligible for the credit.

Thursday’s announcement marks the latest effort by the administration to highlight infrastructure projects spurred since the start of President Joe Biden‘s time in office.

Unlike the rural internet projects announced on Thursday, the Affordable Connectivity Program is funded through a provision of the massive bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year.

It will take some time for many of the infrastructure projects funded by the bipartisan bill — new roads and bridges, for example — to come to full fruition due to planning and approval processes and getting shovels in the ground. But the Affordable Connectivity Program is a rare effort yielding nearly immediate and tangible benefits, a critical win the administration can tout ahead of the midterm elections this November.

Additional funding through the bipartisan infrastructure law for rural internet projects is expected to roll out next year.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the grant amount awarded to Uprise Fiber. It is $27.1 million.

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CNN’s Betsy Klein and Katie Lobosco contributed to this report.

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