Every day, 73 percent of us go online. The White House’s Broadband Opportunity Council now calls internet access a core utility, infrastructure as necessary as water, sewers, and electricity. Yet the digital divide between rural and urban areas still exists: 53 percent of rural Americans, some 22 million people, lack access to broadband. On Tribal lands, the statistics are 63 percent, or 2.5 million people.
Those numbers are important because it is in rural America where the internet can make the most dramatic impact. Farmers are rapidly embracing the internet as a business tool, using it for both farm and nonagricultural purchases, product marketing, and to access government websites. It can bring all residents educational resources, economic opportunities, and goods and services they don’t readily have physical access to. When the nearest employment is 50 miles away, online jobs are important. When the nearest physician is 50 miles away, online doctors are life savers.
The Department of Agriculture's Community Connect Grant Program helps fund broadband in rural communities where it is not yet commercially available. State and local governments, federally-recognized Tribes, non-profts and for profit corporations are among those eligible. Point Hope, AK, Seminole County, OK, Dickenson County, VA, and the Fond du Lac Band of Superior Chippewa in Minnesota were the recipients last year. The deadline to apply is June 17, 2016.
The Department of Agriculture's Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program (Broadband Program) provides loans and loan guarantees for the cost of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment to provide broadband service for eligible rural areas. Applicants may be Tribal organizations, state and local governments, nonprofits, and corporations. The deadline for submissions is July 7, 2016.