Government

USDA invests $5.4 million into high-speed broadband in Johnson and Iowa counties

Funding to help South Slope Cooperative aid service to thousands of people, businesses

Chuck Deisbeck (left), CEO of South Slope Cooperative, listens as Duane Willhite, North Fayette Valley Community Schools
Chuck Deisbeck (left), CEO of South Slope Cooperative, listens as Duane Willhite, North Fayette Valley Community Schools superintendent, describes challenges students face due to lack of broadband internet connectivity at home during a roundtable discussion with Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer at the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance in Cedar Rapids in 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest $5.4 million for broadband service for thousands of people and businesses in Johnson and Iowa counties, the department announced Tuesday afternoon.

The funds — half in the form of grants through the USDA’s Reconnect Program and the rest as a low-interest loan — will go to North Liberty-based internet service provider South Slope Cooperative Communications.

“Broadband is so important to farms, and other businesses as it can help improve the quality of life in rural communities and help grow rural economies,” Bill Northey, USDA undersecretary for farm production and conservation, said in a news release.

The funding is expected to bring fiber-optic service to 1,984 people, 26 businesses and 147 farms, according to the news release.

South Slope said its fiber-optic technology will allow for internet speeds 50 times faster than the average residential internet connection.

“The expense that goes into building fiber networks, especially in rural areas, is extremely high and is often cost prohibitive,” said Chuck Deisbeck, South Slope chief executive officer, in a statement. “In an effort to serve our members, we never stop looking for opportunities to apply for grants and assistance.”

The Reconnect Program started in 2018 after Congress approved $600 million in funding. More than $14 million of that has gone to Iowa companies.

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The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, authorized a second wave of Reconnect Program funding.

The USDA received 172 applications from the second round of grants and loans.

South Slope provides internet, phone and television service for customers in 10 municipalities — North Liberty, Tiffin, Oxford, Solon, Ely, Swisher, Fairfax, Amana, Norway and Newhall — in Eastern Iowa.

Comments: (319) 398-8394; john.steppe@thegazette.com

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