WASHINGTON â€“ Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the Obama Administration is investing in rural telecommunications equipment to help expand access to education, create jobs and improve health care in 25 states.
“Expanding access to broadband will greatly improve educational and economic opportunities for rural residents,” Vilsack said. “Broadband gives students more courses to choose from, more skills to use in high-paying jobs, and more opportunities to enroll in colleges and universities offering the best education available today. We must make needed investments to connect our rural residents to the 21st century technology that will help them compete in a global economy.”
Supporting the President ConnectED Initiative
The announcement of nearly $16 million in USDA grants for distance learning and telemedicine services helps to support President Obama’s ConnectED initiative. In June 2013, President Obama announced an effort to connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed Internet over the next five years. Since 2009 USDA has provided support for more than 3,300 educational institutions receiving distance learning services to help rural children get an education that is as good as that of their peers in cities.
Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant Program
Today’s investments are being provided through USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant program. It provides funding to rural hospitals, clinics, schools and libraries for equipment and technical assistance for telemedicine and distance learning. Grant recipients must demonstrate that they serve rural America, prove there is an economic need and provide at least 15 percent in matching funds.
For example, the South Central Ohio Computer Association in Piketon, Ohio, has been selected for a $184,000 grant to link 20 high schools. The Association will train students for high technology careers through a mentoring program using advanced communications technology. In Idaho, funds will be used by the Idaho Education Network to purchase distance learning equipment for K-8 schools in 62 of Idaho’s most rural and economically challenged communities. The distance learning equipment will also be used to train emergency service personnel after school hours.
Improving Rural Communications
Since 2009, USDA has invested almost $150 million in the Distance Learning and Telemedicine program. These investments complement other USDA efforts to improve rural communications. In FY 2013, USDA provided $305 million in loans for broadband infrastructure. These loans will result in new or upgraded broadband service for about 120,000 rural households, businesses and community institutions once the projects are completed. High-speed broadband access is as vital to the educational and economic fortunes of rural America as electricity was in the 1930s and 1940s.
President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way â€“ strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values.