The USDA is investing in rural telecommunications equipment to help expand access to education, create jobs and improve health care in 25 states. The department announced nearly $16 million in grant funds for distance learning and telemedicine services helps to support President Obama’s ConnectED initiative. The initiative was announced in 2013 with the goal of connecting 99% of America’s students to high-speed Internet over the next five years.
Funding will be provided through USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant program. It provides funding to rural hospitals, clinics, schools and libraries for equipment and technical assistance for telemedicine and distance learning. Grant recipients must demonstrate that they serve rural America, prove there is an economic need and provide at least 15% in matching funds.
Projects range from connecting individual schools; purchasing and creating distance learning programs, to telemedicine and teleconference based counseling programs. In Idaho, funds will be used by the Idaho Education Network to purchase distance learning equipment for K-8 schools in 62 of Idaho’s most rural and economically challenged communities. The distance learning equipment will also be used to train emergency service personnel after school hours.
“We must make needed investments to connect our rural residents to the 21st century technology that will help them compete in a global economy,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.