The U.S. Department of Agriculture is making available $759 million in grants and loans to enable rural communities to access high-speed internet, part of the broader $65 billion push for high-speed connectivity from last year’s infrastructure law. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and White House senior adviser Mitch Landrieu are unveiling the grants in North Carolina on Thursday. There are 49 recipients in 24 states. One is North Carolina’s AccessOn Networks, which will receive $17.5 million to provide broadband service to 100 businesses, 76 farms and 22 educational facilities in Halifax and Warren counties. Both counties are rural and have predominantly Black populations. The announcement and visit to North Carolina, a state with an open U.S. Senate seat, come as President Joe Biden and other top Democratic officials are trying to sell their achievements to voters before the Nov. 8 midterm elections. Landrieu, the infrastructure coordinator, and former New Orleans mayor told reporters on a Wednesday call that the Biden administration has already released $180 billion for various infrastructure projects.
“Rural communities are the backbone of our nation, but for too long they’ve been left behind and they have been underrecognized,” Landrieu said. “We all know how essential the internet is to access lifesaving telemedicine, to tap into economic opportunity, to connect with loved ones, to work on precision agriculture and so much more. That’s just beyond unacceptable that that’s not available to rural America.”
Vilsack said he and Landrieu will “learn firsthand” from people in North Carolina about the opportunities internet access can create. They plan to meet with state and local officials including North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper at Wake Technical Community College, where they’ll announce the grants. They will also hold a town hall in Elm City.