Broadband funding process the focus at USDA Rural Development workshop

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Business, community and elected leaders throughout the state got the chance to learn about the steps to secure funding for broadband and discuss further expansion on Monday.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development, West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council and the West Virginia Development Office held a broadband workshop at the state Capitol that included guest speaker U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

Kris Warner, State Director of Rural Development for USDA told MetroNews there were eight to 10 internet providers from West Virginia at the workshop along with community leaders that totaled over 100 people.

Kris Warner

“We are doing everything we can to make sure all the questions by our community leaders are answered, and those internet providers who may have technical questions,” Warner said.

$600 million in funding are available through the USDA’s ReConnect Program, which was the focus of the workshop. Warner said $200 million are in grant funds, $200 million in grant and loans funds, and $200 million just in loans to provide infrastructure and equipment for the networks.

The program was established in March 2018 when Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018. A goal of the program is to expand broadband service to rural areas without sufficient broadband access, defined as 10 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 1 Mbps upstream, a release said.

Capito, who has established a program to help broadband expansion called Capito Connect, spoke to kick off the event and focused on the grant application process. She told MetroNews as an appropriator in Congress she has put a lot of money into the USDA, in hopes of furthering connectivity.

Shelley Moore Capito

“We need to get to that last mile, that last house to be able to connect for reasons of educational opportunity, economic, telehealth. There are all kinds of reasons why we need to push the connectivity out to all parts of West Virginia,” Capito said.

She added that she believes the state of broadband in the Mountain State is headed in the right direction and discussions, like the ones that took place Monday, need to continue.

Chad Parker, Assistant Administrator to Telecommunications Programs at USDA, also spoke in front of the standing room only crowd at the state Capitol. He told MetroNews there is a lot of interest in the state on learning about the process for funding for broadband and connectivity. The challenge has always been the process, which is why he said Monday was an important event.

“The ReConnect funding allows us to find loans, grants, combination loan grants out into rural communities to build broadband infrastructure to get service to unserved and underserved communities,” Parker said.

The Reconnect Program is one of 40 programs from the USDA Rural Development used to help rural Americans.

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