Government

Funding for rural internet access gets boost from Empower Rural Iowa program

USDA grants back internet expansion, and Iowa initiative can give communities a leg up

A statewide program aimed at addressing rural broadband needs across Iowa could help provide access to federal grant opportunities for internet expansion projects.

The ReConnect grant program, announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last December, can open the door to $600 million in grants and loans aimed at broadband support in rural areas where internet services are lacking.

On Tuesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative, which passed in the most recent Legislative session, could help communities get one step closer to being eligible for the ReConnect funds.

To be considered the USDA funds, applicants must provide broadband service to eligible rural areas with a population of 20,000 or fewer.

Other criteria to receive the funds will be considered by the USDA based on a point system up to 150 points. Reynolds said in a Tuesday news release that a letter noting Iowa’s qualifications will provide applicants an extra 20 points in the application process.

“Improving broadband internet access continues to be a top priority because it allows our rural communities to thrive. The Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative, along with our focus on broadband internet, will put Iowa on the map as a hub for rural connectivity,” Reynolds said.

“By leveraging state, federal and private resources, we can open the door for even more innovation and breakthroughs.”

ReConnect applicants must submit a map showing the U.S. Census Blocks where service is proposed.

• Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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