Rural parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, and Texas have received nearly $40 million in loans to improve broadband service through the USDA’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan Program.
The funds will be used to replace and improve current broadband systems, or build new networks that will provide broadband access to more residents.
“Broadband is essential to the economic strength of rural communities,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “It improves access to education and quality health care, and it leads to new jobs and business opportunities.”
Nationwide, only 62 percent of rural adults have broadband at home, compared to 73 percent of suburban adults and 70 percent of urban adults.
High-speed Internet access has been critical to schools as they have transitioned to the new common-core standards and computer-based exams, but many rural districts have struggled to upgrade technology, Internet, and bandwidth requirements. Students without adequate Internet access may also be at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing information about college, applying to college, and learning about scholarship opportunities.
The Federal Communications Commission recently announced plans to modernize E-rate, a program that subsidizes telecommunication costs for schools and libraries. The plan would improve wireless access in schools, establish lower prices for Internet access, and lessen the administrative burden to make it easier for schools to use the program. In the wake of the FCC’s announcement, several rural organizations said the plan does not do enough to address the needs of rural schools because it allocates funds on a per-pupil basis and considers district-level poverty instead of school-level poverty.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.