by: Sabrina Shutters
HORRY COUNTY, SC (WBTW) – Families living in the rural parts of both the Grand Strand and the Pee Dee could soon get connected to high-speed internet thanks to government funding through five different USDA programs for broadband.
FIVE USDA BROADBAND PROGRAMS FOR RURAL AREAS
- ReConnect Program: This program provides grants, loans and loan grant combinations to telecommunications service providers, cooperatives, Tribal entities and municipalities to facilitate broadband deployment in under-served rural areas.
- Rural Broadband Program: This program provides loans to construct, improve or acquire facilities and equipment. This program was re-authorized by the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018; commonly known as the 2018 Farm Bill.
- Community Connect: The Community-Oriented Connectivity Broadband Grant (“Community Connect”) Program provides grants to deliver broadband to rural communities lacking high-speed Internet service. The grants fund broadband infrastructure and broadband connections at community centers.
- Distance Learning and Telemedicine: This program helps rural communities acquire the technology, equipment and training necessary to virtually connect with educators and medical professionals for remote services.
$8.1 million has already been spent to connect homes in Charleston and Berkeley counties, and the rural areas of the Grand Strand and Pee Dee could be next in the second and third rounds of funding.
“Rural areas lack broadband high-speed internet,” said Debbie Turbeville, the South Carolina director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development department.
The USDA is looking to bring an internet connection to the most rural parts of South Carolina.
“You think about all the students that go home in the afternoons and they have no internet, or their internet’s so poor it takes them two or three hours to connect,” said Turbeville.
It’s through ReConnect, one of five USDA broadband programs that gives funding to service providers in under-served rural areas.
They’ve already connected homes in Huger, South Carolina in the first round of funding, and rural counties along the Grand Strand and Pee Dee could be next.
“We started out with $600 million, and then Congress appropriated $550 more million, so there’s plenty of funding,” Turbeville replied.
Cooperatives, municipalities and non-profits are just some of the eligible applicants.
Turbeville says the program makes a tremendous difference in education.
“Children can compete with other students in other areas, urban areas, that have better high-speed internet,” she said.
Rural families are just one sector the program affects. “It’ll also help hospitals and colleges and businesses. It’ll attract businesses to communities,” Turbeville pointed out.