USDA invests millions to deploy broadband in rural Texas

In a move to expand rural connectivity for rural Texans, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing millions in high-speed Internet infrastructure projects in the Lone Star State.

Peoples Telephone Cooperative will use a $3 million grant and $1 million in cooperative funds to deploy 53.7 miles of fiber to deploy unserved areas near Lake Bob Sandlin in Camp county and near Wood County Airport in Wood county Texas. This investment is anticipated to cover 914 households and two critical community facilities.

“We are excited about the opportunity to bring broadband to these unserved areas in East Texas,” said Steven Steele, general manager of Peoples. Peoples, founded in 1952, serves 17 rural counties in East Texas.

“In light of the coronavirus outbreak that is challenging Texas and our nation, reliable telecommunications services are more important than ever to enable working from home, distance learning, online commerce and telemedicine.’’ Steele said.

Border to Border Communications will use a $5 million grant and $5 million loan to create a fiber network to serve 5,153 households, 20 farms,15 businesses, 15 educational facilities and 10 critical community facilities in a 938 square mile area of Webb and Zapata counties. Border to Border, founded in 1994, was purchased by Hilliary Communications.

The USDA investment is part of the first round of the Agriculture Department’s ReConnect Pilot Program.

“Our core mission at USDA is to increase rural prosperity through boosting economic opportunity in rural America,” said  Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue  in a February 28 news release. “We know that rural communities need robust, modern infrastructure to thrive, and that includes having access to broadband e-Connectivity.”

The next phase of the federal ReConnect program, which aims to bring broadband to additional unserved or underserved rural areas, is heating up. The USDA on January 31 began accepting applications for the second phase of the program, which will total $550 million.

“When rural America thrives, all of America thrives,” Perdue said.