**Click Here for Photos from the Event**
GOOCHLAND COUNTY, V.A. — U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger yesterday hosted U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small in Goochland County to meet with local officials and discuss a major investment in USDA’s Rural Development Broadband ReConnect Program.
Last week, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that on November 24 USDA will begin accepting applications for up to $1.15 billion in ReConnect loans and grants to expand broadband internet access in rural communities. During Monday’s discussion in Goochland County, Spanberger and Under Secretary Torres Small met with community leaders and telecommunications officials to discuss how this new level of investment could boost high-speed internet access in Central Virginia.
Spanberger and Under Secretary Torres Small were joined by representatives from the Office of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Farm Credit of the Virginias, Virginia Farm Bureau, Goochland County, Orange County, Goochland County Board of Supervisors, Nottoway County Board of Supervisors, Louisa County Board of Supervisors, and Orange County Board of Supervisors.
“During the pandemic, I was proud to see so many Virginia counties and localities take steps to immediately expand internet access — such as through new hotspots or through the FCC’s E-Rate Program. These short-term steps were tremendous examples of our communities working together, but we know that in the long run, we need to make serious investments in our physical infrastructure. That’s why I was so proud to host Under Secretary Torres Small in Goochland County, and I am encouraged to see USDA Rural Development reiterate its strong focus on closing the digital divide. Additionally, I am glad to see continued confidence in the ReConnect Program — as well as renewed work to simply the application process and cut red tape,” said Spanberger. “This new investment of $1.15 billion in rural America will allow more Virginia counties to apply for these grants and loans — and it will supplement ongoing efforts here in the Commonwealth to expand statewide connectivity. I would like to thank those who joined our event, shared their ideas, and committed to keeping our momentum going as we rebuild from the pandemic — and I thank Under Secretary Torres Small for being one of the strongest champions for the people of rural America.”
“Every student deserves to be able to do their homework from home; every small business owner deserves the tools necessary to compete in a world-wide marketplace; and every person, whether in a skyscraper or at the end of a dirt road, needs public safety and emergency information quickly and reliably,” said USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small. “Thanks to Congresswoman Spanberger, and Under the leadership of President Biden, Vice President Harris and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, Rural Development is making up to $1.15 billion available through the ReConnect Program to expand high-speed broadband infrastructure for people who live in communities just like Goochland across the country.”
Spanberger has long been a strong supporter of the ReConnect Program. In February 2020, Spanberger announced $28 million in federal funding for high-speed broadband internet infrastructure projects in Central Virginia — including in Louisa, Orange, Goochland, and Powhatan Counties — through the ReConnect Program. In 2019, Spanberger successfully led the fight to protect ReConnect funding from elimination — and in 2020, she worked to strengthen funding for the program in the fiscal year 2021 funding deal signed into law by President Donald Trump.
Spanberger has continued to bring USDA officials to Central Virginia to meet directly with Virginians, hear about challenges faced during the Commonwealth’s economic recovery, and gather feedback about federal relief measures like the American Rescue Plan. In August 2021, Spanberger hosted Secretary Vilsack in Amelia County for a roundtable discussion with Central Virginia farmers, producers, and agribusinesses — including on the topic of broadband internet access.
To be eligible for ReConnect Program funding, an applicant must commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to every location in its proposed service area. In making funding decisions USDA will prioritize projects that will serve low density rural areas with locations lacking internet access services at speeds of at least 25 Mbps (upload) and 3 Mbps (download). In making funding decisions, the USDA will also consider, among other things, the economic needs of the community to be served; the extent which a provider will offer affordable service options; a project’s commitment to strong labor standards; and whether a project is serving tribal lands or is submitted by a local government, Tribal Government, non-profit or cooperative.
With last Friday’s announcement, USDA has now simplified the application process and has expanded the program significantly. For example, ReConnect will now offer 100 percent grants for certain projects on tribal lands and in socially vulnerable communities.