CORDOVA – Tuesday, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Alaska State Director for Rural Development Jerry Ward announced USDA has invested $18.88 million in high-speed broadband infrastructure that will create or improve rural e-Connectivity for nearly 270 rural households in Yakutat. This is one of many funding announcements in the first round of USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program investments.
“Geographic isolation should no longer be a barrier to economic prosperity, especially here in Alaska,” Ward said. “With ReConnect, we are bridging the so-called ‘digital divide’ and bringing modern communications to rural Alaskan communities like Yakutat. Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural communities in deploying this critical infrastructure, because we know when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”
Nathan Moulton, Executive Director of Yakutat Tlingit Tribe, added “The Yakutat Tlingit Tribe and our members are excited to work with Cordova Telecom to bring high-speed broadband to Yakutat. The USDA grant investment in Yakutat will positively impact lives and opportunities for everyone in our community.”
The project, dubbed NICEY (New Internet Communications for Everyone in Yakutat), will deliver broadband internet service to all 662 year-round residents and businesses in Yakutat via fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connections. Yakutat will be connected to Cordova’s submarine fiber optics via a new microwave middle-mile network spanning 230 miles between the two communities.
In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 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 percent loan, 100 percent 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.