USDA issues broadband loans

Grant recipients

The Agriculture Department on May 7 awarded $190 million in loans intended to help companies and local officials in 20 communities establish or enhance broadband access.

The grants are part of the department's rural broadband access program, and priority is given to applications for areas where there currently is no residential broadband service. Telecom and cable providers have been reluctant to build high-speed Internet access networks for communities in rural or sparsely populated areas. And as e-government services mature, many officials at all government levels believe some communities can reduce Internet connection costs by building their own networks — a move opposed by some communications companies. Many local governments are now in legal battles over what broadband services can and should be provided by government or by industry.

Since Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced the program in January 2003, the department has awarded more than $206 million in loans. Companies received anywhere from $362,000 to almost $59 million to improve service across 19 states, including Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Congress approved most of the funding for the program through the 2002 Farm Bill. But a little more than $40 million of the loans were through the department's existing Rural Development telecommunications loan program, which requires that all infrastructure built with the money include broadband capability.

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