Harmony, MN, January 17, 2020 — United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky announced Harmony Telephone Company as a recipient of a $5.4 million Reconnect Program award.
“When Americans are connected to high-speed internet, productivity and prosperity skyrocket,” Censky said. “This task of providing rural Americans with broadband is of the highest importance for President Trump and his Administration. We cannot leave millions of Americans out of the successes of this booming economy simply because they do not have access to the internet.”
Harmony Telephone Company will use a $2.7 million ReConnect Program loan and a $2.7 million ReConnect Program grant to construct a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network to connect 577 households, a health care center and a critical community facility spread over 143 square miles in several counties bordering southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.
“The award will help us build out our fiber infrastructure to rural areas, which will create endless life-changing opportunities for our subscribers,” said Harmony Telephone Company COO Jill Huffman.
Being able to build out fiber infrastructure to rural areas creates opportunities that had been only available to city subscribers.
Huffman gave a few examples of capabilities broadband brings for farmers, small business owners and rural residents in general.
“It can provide added security with real-time video monitoring of property and evaluate equipment performance off-site for farmers,” Huffman explained.
With more at-home businesses, Huffman spoke of broadband being able to level the playing field with their competitors by improving the ways they can connect with business partners, customers and suppliers. It allows telecommuting opportunities for rural residents and children to connect at similar internet speeds as their city classmates.
“Providing broadband service to rural areas is challenging and that is what makes being a recipient of the ReConnect Program award so exciting to our team at Harmony Telephone,” Huffman said.
Huffman explained that with all the technology advances broadband brings, what their customers really need is a trusted technology partner and that providing fiber to the premises, is just the beginning.
“Whether our subscribers are using our service for their farm operation, small business or home, they can count on our seasoned and dedicated team at Harmony Telephone to serve them with better broadband and assist them with any broadband-related technology needs,” Huffman said.
In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On December 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% loan, 100% 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 December 2019, Agriculture Secretary Perdue announced USDA will be making available an additional $550 million in ReConnect funding in 2020. USDA will make available up to $200 million for grants, up to $200 million for 50/50 grant/loan combinations, and up to $200 million for low-interest loans. The application window for this round of funding will open January 31, 2020. Applications for all funding products will be accepted in the same application window, which will close no later than March 16, 2020.
A full description of 2020 ReConnect Pilot Program funding is available on page 67913 of the December 12, 2019, Federal Register. To learn more about eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements, visit www.usda.gov/reconnect.
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. In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, please view the Rural Prosperity infographic.