WEST END — The Trump Administration announced last week that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing more than $2 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in North Carolina.
U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), founder and co-chair of the Agriculture and Rural America Task Force in Congress, hosted U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue for the announcement on Thursday. In West End, Rep. Hudson and Secretary Perdue discussed the importance of expanding rural broadband access and detailed the department’s investment in the Randolph Telephone Membership Corporation, which will use a $2.3 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network to connect 3,333 people, 17 farms, 26 businesses and nine educational facilities to high-speed broadband internet in Moore County.
“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now – as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency. Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband,” said Secretary Perdue. “I am so proud of our rural communities who have been working day in and day out, just like they always do, producing the food and fiber America depends on. We need them more than ever during these trying times, and expanding access to this critical infrastructure will help ensure rural America prospers for years to come.”
This investment is part of the $100 million allocated to the ReConnect Program through the CARES Act, which Rep. Hudson supported.
“Connecting our rural communities to broadband has never been more important than right now. Rural broadband has remained a top priorities for me in Congress and I thank President Donald Trump and Secretary Sonny Perdue for sharing this commitment and delivering this funding to connect rural homes, farms, businesses and schools in Moore County to this infrastructure,” said Rep. Hudson.
Following the broadband announcement, Secretary Perdue joined Rep. Hudson for a roundtable discussion and tour of a 7th generation family farm in Bunnlevel to discuss priorities for farmers, ranchers, growers and producers. Rep. Hudson and Secretary Perdue were joined by North Carolina Farm Bureau members from throughout the region.
“Agriculture remains a top industry in our state and I recognize that our farmers, ranchers and agribusiness leaders are some of the hardest workers in our nation. I thank Secretary Perdue for joining me today in Bunnlevel and hearing directly from farmers in our region about their needs. I am committed to supporting our farmers, as well as all workers and small businesses that are the backbone of our community and country,” continued Rep. Hudson.
At Byrd Family Farms in Bunnlevel, Rep. Hudson and Secretary Perdue discussed relief efforts for farmers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Rep. Hudson recently supported $23.5 billion in temporary emergency relief to help farmers weather the fall-out caused by the pandemic through the CARES Act. This included $9.5 billion in disaster relief for USDA to directly support farmers and ranchers, and $14 billion to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation which funds programs like Price Loss Coverage, Dairy Margin Coverage, and the Market Facilitation Program.
In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, Secretary Perdue announced the rules of the ReConnect program, including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America.
On April 20, 2020, USDA announced the Department has received 172 applications for $1.57 billion in Round Two of the ReConnect Program. The second round will enable USDA to implement innovative new solutions to rural connectivity by leveraging financial options with our partners and continuing the success of the first round of funding. The application window for round two closed on April 15.
In Round One of the ReConnect Program, USDA invested $698 million to bring high-speed broadband e-Connectivity to approximately 167,000 households, 17,000 rural small businesses and farms, and more than 500 health care centers, educational facilities and critical community facilities located in 33 states.