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.
President Donald 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 some great news. Included in the 2018 budget bill that Congress just passed, and Trump signed, 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 deliberated over the coming months.
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture will use these rural broadband funds to administer a new program that will begin to meet the administration’s goals of bringing reliable and affordable broadband 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. We need broadband to encourage business development for economic growth. We need to encourage our youth to remain in rural areas. Rural Kentucky needs broadband in every home to ensure our students have access to online education opportunities, health services and to conduct daily business.
As we set up the new program, USDA will work diligently to ensure that the broadband 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 has made over the decades by investing in rural infrastructure. Here in Kentucky, USDA helped Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative in McKee complete a fiber to home project to ensure 18,000 residents of Jackson and Owsley counties have access to broadband.
Sixty percent of the project cost was funded by a low-interest Rural Development loan, and a USDA grant funded an additional thirty percent. This project was crucial to the area and resulted in the creation of more than 550 jobs by providing the capability for rural residents to work at home for major corporations. These jobs have generated over $11 million in revenue for the local economies.
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, beginning in our treasured commonwealth.
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 what’s working and what we can do better.
Please contact me or our team of specialists in Lexington to let us know of your community’s infrastructure needs. Program information is available by calling (859) 224-7300 or on our website at https://www.rd.usda.gov/ky.
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 businesses and raise families.
Hilda Gay Legg is state director for U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.