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) has around 50 programs to help address the need, including the ReConnect program.
"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 August 4th, 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.
State and local governments, corporations, tribes, and co-ops have until September 6 to apply for fourth-round funding.
Williams said processing the award and getting funding distributed for any application that is approved will likely take at least six months.