LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. — More broadband Internet will be coming to rural areas near Lake of the Ozarks, thanks to a combined $14 million in loans and grants announced this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
On Tuesday, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald “DJ” LaVoy announced USDA has invested $60.9 million in high-speed broadband infrastructure that will create or improve e-Connectivity for more than 11,000 rural households, 81 farms, 73 businesses, 16 educational facilities, 12 critical community facilities and two health care facilities in rural Missouri. This is one of many funding announcements in the first round of USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program investments.
Gascosage Electric Cooperative, which serves the counties of Camden, Maries, Miller, Phelps and Pulaski, will receive $7 million in grants and $7 million in loans to bring Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network to its most rural areas. The investment is expected to reach 20 pre-subscribed farms, 20 pre-subscribed businesses, 1,177 households and two fire protection districts. Gascosage Electric Cooperative is headquartered in Dixon, Mo. The co-op currently serves more than 10,000 homes, farms, businesses and industries in this area with more than 1,500 miles of electric power lines.
According to a project map on the USDA Rural Development's ReConnect website, the largest area of expansion will be in eastern Miller and western Maries counties: in the rural areas around Iberia, and north of Richland, about 20-30 miles east of the Lake.
Gascosage General Manager Carmen Hartwell told LakeExpo.com she would have additional information about the phases of the expansion, the timeline, and the specific areas that would be reached, later this week.
“High-speed broadband internet connectivity, or e-Connectivity, is essential today to run a successful business or agricultural operation, access specialized health care or education, and connect with loved ones living far away,” Under Secretary LaVoy said. “Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Perdue, USDA has made the deployment of this critical infrastructure in rural America a top priority, because we know that when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”
LaVoy announced five projects throughout the state of Missouri. In addition to the Gascosage grant/loan, the USDA also announced:
- Mid-States Services LLC will use a $3 million loan to provide unserved and underserved members in and around Trenton, Mo., with Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) broadband services. This investment is expected to reach 566 households, a highway patrol office and an elementary school.
- Total Highspeed LLC will use a $20.1 million loan and a $20.1 million grant to build a Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network to improve broadband services to families and businesses in rural Greene County. This investment is expected to reach 8,683 households, 20 pre-subscribed farms, 15 pre-subscribed businesses, eight critical community facilities, 12 educational facilities and a health care center.
- Green Hills Telephone Corporation will use a $2.6 million grant to expand its Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network to rural areas in Caldwell and Livingston counties. This investment is expected to reach 20 pre-subscribed farms, 20 pre-subscribed businesses, 546 households, a fire protection district and two educational facilities.
- Marshall Municipal Utilities will use a $575,000 loan and a $575,000 grant to provide high-quality internet access to rural areas of Saline County. By expanding its current service area, an additional 21 pre-subscribed farms, 18 pre-subscribed businesses, 763 households, a private school and a nursing home will have access to broadband.
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 program, called “ReConnect,” including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America. USDA received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding across all three ReConnect Program funding products: 100 percent loan, 100 percent grant, and loan-grant combinations. USDA is reviewing applications and announcing approved projects on a rolling basis. Additional investments in all three categories will be made in the coming weeks.
These grants, loans and combination funds enable the federal government to partner with the private sector and rural communities to build modern broadband infrastructure in areas with insufficient internet service. Insufficient service is defined as connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload.
In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force. To view the report in its entirety, please view the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB). In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, please view the Rural Prosperity infographic (PDF, 190 KB).
USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas.