The USA will fund new rural broadband projects in Arkansas, Iowa, and New Mexico. The funding coincides with the creation of the Broadband Opportunity Council, which will be co-chaired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.
Southwest Arkansas Telephone will receive a $25 million loan to upgrade portions of a fiber network and convert the remaining portions of a copper system to fiber to improve service for subscribers.
In New Mexico, Mescalero Apache Telecom will receive a $5.4 million loan to upgrade portions of its system and provide fiber service to approximately 50 percent of its territory.
This is the first loan that USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) has made under the Substantially Underserved Trust Area provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill. These provisions amended the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to make funding available to areas that historically have had difficulty receiving federal assistance. RUS has held a series of outreach workshops around the country in the past year to help Tribal communities access RUS broadband programs.
Iowa’s Minburn Communications has also been selected to receive a $4.7 million loan to upgrade its copper network to fiber, and to provide subscribers with voice, broadband and video service.
Additionally, the Broadband Opportunity Council will be tasked with engaging with stakeholders to support broadband investment. Those efforts will include examining regulatory barriers, as well as finding investment opportunities. The Council will report back to the President, within 150 days, with the steps each agency will take to advance these goals, including specific regulatory actions or budget proposals.