WJR Business Beat: USDA Reconnect Program Addresses Rural Digital Divide (Episode 468)

On this episode of the Business Beat, Jeff talks about the USDA ReConnect program to help connect businesses in rural America to the Internet by providing funding opportunities to bridge the digital divide.

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Good morning, Paul!

One of the fundamental requirements to starting and operating a small business today is simply access to the Internet and not just access, but high-speed broadband access, and unfortunately there are areas of our country and certainly our state where that access is still just not available like it is for the rest of us.

Well, now there’s an important program offered by the USDA we want to highlight that’s focused on the digital divide as we know it in rural communities. It’s known as the ReConnect program and it offers loans, grants and loan/grant combinations to facilitate broadband deployment in areas of rural America that currently simply don’t have access to broadband Internet. In facilitating the expansion of broadband services and infrastructure, the program will fuel long-term, rural economic development and opportunities in rural America.

Now we’ve all heard the term digital divide and we’re aware of the problem that it generally presents, but many of us don’t know that that problem exists in rural America. We tend to think of it as an urban issue, but indeed there are more than 30 million Americans living in rural areas that simply don’t have access to broadband Internet.

You know, Paul, during the pandemic, a trend started that continues to this day and that is that more businesses are being started in America than ever before. Another trend, many moved out of the urban environment to suburbs and some even to rural areas and many of those want to start businesses of their own while they simply can’t do it if there’s no broadband available.

Why does the lapse and coverage exist in rural areas? Well, the gap exists in rural America because it’s simply not economically compelling for service providers to lay fiber and provide broadband connections to sparsely populated areas of the country. And so the USDA ReConnect program is here to help get businesses in rural America connected by providing these favorable funding opportunities in the form of grants and loans to help ensure that we bridge this part of the digital divide as well. To learn more and apply, go to USDA.gov/reconnect.

I’m Jeff Sloan, founder and CEO of startupnation.com, and that’s today’s Business Beat on the Great Voice of the Great Lakes, WJR.

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