Some people remember when many rural households didn’t have electricity or running water. Although those days are long gone for most, there’s still lots of room for improvement. In fact, our American infrastructure used to be the envy of the world, but now it’s in disrepair.
This is why President Trump has made it a priority to rebuild America’s infrastructure. He proposes to devote $50 billion, which is 25 percent of new federal money, to improving infrastructure in rural America. This is an unprecedented commitment. His proposal will stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next decade.
As Congress takes up the President’s infrastructure proposal, I am delighted to share with you some great news right now. Included in the FY 2018 budget bill that Congress just passed and President Trump signed in March is a robust investment of $600 million in rural broadband. These funds will serve as a “down payment” on the President’s full, comprehensive infrastructure funding proposal that will be further deliberated over the coming months.
USDA will use these new rural broadband funds to administer a new program that will begin to meet the Administration’s goals of bringing reliable and affordable broadband e-Connectivity to America’s rural towns, cities and tribal areas. Today, 80 percent of the 24 million American households that do not have 21st century high-speed internet are in rural areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission. That is unacceptable. America can do better for our rural citizens and for rural production sites that need e-Connectivity to continue to supply the nation and the world with food, fiber, minerals and manufactured products.
As we set up the new program, USDA will work diligently to ensure that the broadband e-Connectivity projects provide the most “bang for the buck” and improve access for as many rural American homes, businesses, farms, schools and health care centers as possible.
Every day, I see firsthand the tremendous difference USDA Rural Development makes by investing in rural infrastructure. Here in Nevada, USDA funded a $12 million combination loan and grant that is helping Storey County replace its aged and failing wastewater collection system. This project protects the health of residents and the environment, while supporting the tourism economy in the historic district.
USDA has also invested over $41 million broadband in places like remote Elko County and Esmeralda County—places that would otherwise go completely without any kind of broadband service. This included $25 million in infrastructure loans to small rural telephone companies $2.5 million in Distance Learning Telemedicine loans and grants for universities and community colleges, rural school districts, Tribes, and medical clinics, $3 million for Community Connect Grants to provide community connectivity in small towns and $11 million in Broadband Initiative Program for infrastructure improvements. Without USDA, many areas would simply be without broadband or internet.
These investments are the result of strong partnerships that USDA has formed over the years with local business and civic leaders.
In addition to providing infrastructure financing, USDA is addressing statutory changes, regulatory relief and cultural shifts to help improve the way the Federal government serves its citizens. This approach is consistent with the Secretary’s priorities: Infrastructure, Partnerships and Innovation. All three are needed to rebuild this great nation.
During the next few weeks and months – and throughout my term – I will be meeting with business owners, developers, elected officials and rural residents to learn about your infrastructure needs and concerns. I want to hear from you about what is working – and what we can do better.
Here is how you can help: Please contact me or our team of specialists in Carson City, Nevada, to let us know of your community’s infrastructure needs. I can be reached by phone at 775-887-1222 Ext. 4751.
Together, we can ensure that USDA investments in rural infrastructure will create jobs, expand economic opportunities and help ensure that rural communities continue to be great places to live, work, start a business and raise a family.
It’s an honor to serve you.
Phil Cowee is Nevada State Director for USDA Rural Development.