Funding from USDA Will Connect Rural Communities to High-Speed Broadband
Estes Park – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is awarding $6 million to Yampa Valley Electric Association (YVEA) to expand broadband service in Northwest Colorado. In April, Bennet wrote a letter to USDA in support of YVEA’s application for funding from the ReConnect Program.
USDA will provide funding to YVEA through its ReConnect Program to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network that will connect 553 people, 27 farms, 27 businesses, and three post offices to high-speed broadband in Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, Grand, and Eagle counties.
“This grant is a testament to Yampa Valley Electric Association’s terrific work for Northwest Colorado, and I was glad to support their application and to increase funding for USDA’s ReConnect program as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee,” said Bennet. “The pandemic has underscored the profound cost of the digital divide, and we can’t rest until every Coloradan has access to affordable, high-speed broadband no matter where they live.”
“As the County Commissioner representing South Routt County, I cannot tell you how excited and gratified I am to see the USDA and YVEA partner on this project that will at long last extend fiber optic broadband capacity to this underserved part of our community. It is impossible to overstate the benefits to our schools, medical providers, businesses, and citizens. Senator Bennet has long recognized the importance of broadband to our rural communities and has led initiatives, including the BRIDGE Act, to address this critical need.” – Tim Corrigan, Routt County Commissioner
“YVEA has been a great partner to work with over the years on several projects in Moffat County. This project will provide the residents of Hamilton and Maybell access to affordable, high-speed internet and will be a game changer for those communities.” – Ray Beck, Moffat County Commissioner
“Eagle County is excited about the Re-Connect grant for our region from USDA Rural Development. Reliable and affordable high-speed internet connectivity is fundamental for our economy, our schools, and our connection with the world. Especially during these times of distancing, and remote work, health care and schooling, this e-connectivity is vital to keep rural Colorado on a level playing field with the rest of the country. Modern broadband capability is a catalyst for rural prosperity through efficient, modern communication between rural American households and schools, markets and health care centers. Areas with smaller populations have found it difficult over the years to attract high-speed internet companies and services; the support of USDA Rural Development is vital to our economic and social well-being.” – Kathy Chandler-Henry, Eagle County Commissioner
USDA’s ReConnect Loan and Grant Program launched in 2018 as a pilot program to expand broadband service to primarily unserved rural areas. Bennet helped to increase funding for the ReConnect Program in the 2018 Farm Bill.
This year, Bennet has taken several actions to expand broadband deployment and help close the digital divide:
- In June, Bennet introduced the BRIDGE Act of 2020 to provide $30 billion in flexible funding to States and $1 billion to Tribal Governments to deploy affordable, high-speed broadband in unserved and underserved communities nationwide, provided new networks meet minimum requirements for speed and affordability.
- In May, Bennet introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act to help students access mobile hotspots and Wi-Fi enabled devices during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
- In April, Bennet called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to coordinate with other federal agencies to ensure that the millions of Americans newly eligible for SNAP or Medicaid due to the pandemic are also informed of their eligibility for the Lifeline program, which offers discounted internet access for low-income Americans.
- In March, Bennet also wrote to the FCC to ensure Americans are not disconnected from the Lifeline program during the crisis and called on the country’s top internet companies to keep families connected and to waive data caps and overage fees until the pandemic has ended.