GREAT FALLS - Internet access is something many of us take for granted.
Because it's so critical yet lacking in some parts of rural America, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) RD has around 50 programs to address a number of needs in rural communities — including the ReConnect program for high-speed internet.
"Internet is the electricity of the 21st century. We just have to have it,” said Kathleen Williams, Montana USDA Rural Development director.
"A program that seeks to help close the digital divide here in Montana and nationally by providing loans and grants to construct, improve, or acquire facilities and equipment that are needed to provide high-speed internet in eligible rural areas,” Williams said, describing the ReConnect program.
Williams said in this fourth round of funding announced on Aug. 4, more than $1 billion is available for projects nationwide.
"There's up to $150 million in loans and then there's $300 million in a loan-grant combination option and then $700 million in grants,” Williams explained. "These funds have come through Rural Development from the bipartisan infrastructure law."
How beneficial can this funding be?
“(In) round three, there was an area in the southern Bitterroot that's actually going to be served now. There's an area straddling the boundary of Montana and North Dakota that's going to be served, and then also the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and adjacent areas,” said Williams.
USDA RD will begin accepting ReConnect applications on Sept. 6 State and local governments, corporations, tribes, and co-ops and will close the application period on Nov. 2.
A workshop is available to help with the application process or you can reach out to Peter Hawkes by phone at 208-339-1104 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Williams said processing the award and getting funding distributed for any application that is approved will likely take at least six months.