GREAT FALLS — Internet access is something many of us take for granted. Because it is so critical but absent in parts of rural America, the United States Department of Agriculture has about 50 programs to help meet the need, including the Reconnect program.
“The internet is the electricity of the 21st century. We just have to have it,” said Kathleen Williams, USDA’s rural development director in Montana.
“A program that aims to help bridge the digital divide here in Montana and nationally by providing loans and grants to build, improve, or acquire facilities and equipment needed to provide high-speed Internet access in areas rural areas,” said Williams, describing the Reconnect Program.
Williams said in this fourth round of funding announced Aug. 4, more than $1 billion is available for projects nationwide.
“There’s up to $150 million in loans, then $300 million in a loan-for-grant combination option, then $700 million in grants,” Williams explained. “These funds come from the Rural Development of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.”
How beneficial can this funding be?
“(In) round three there was an area in south Bitterroot that is actually going to be serviced now. There is an area straddling the Montana and North Dakota border that is going to be serviced, as well as the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and adjacent areas,” Williams said.
State and local governments, businesses, tribes and cooperatives can begin applying September 6 for fourth-round funding.
Williams said processing the award and distributing funds for any approved applications will likely take at least six months.