USDA announces internet funds for two Kansas counties

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday it has awarded $71 million in funding to extend broadband internet access in rural underserved areas in Oklahoma and Kansas, including Chautauqua and Montgomery counties in Kansas.  

The funding is part of a round of investments under the department’s Broadband ReConnect program, which furnishes loans and grants to pay for construction, improvement or acquisition of facilities and equipment to provide broadband service in rural areas.  

The news comes as Kansas school districts struggle with a “homework gap” of inequitable access to broadband internet among school-aged children who are learning online during the COVID-19 pandemic. The gap is most prevalent in rural areas where connectivity is poor and in high-poverty communities where families cannot afford access. It’s estimated that 70,000 Kansas school-aged children don’t have reliable home internet access.   

A department news release said Totah Communications Inc. is receiving an $18.9 million loan and an $18.9 million grant to construct 621 miles of fiber-to-the-premises broadband infrastructure to extend broadband availability to 8,155 residents, 20 farms and 15 businesses in Rogers, Nowata, Washington and Osage counties in Oklahoma; and Montgomery and Chautauqua counties Kansas. 

“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now – as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency. Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband,” said USDA Secretary Perdue in the news release. “I am so proud of our rural communities who have been working day in and day out, just like they always do, producing the food and fiber America depends on. We need them more than ever during these trying times, and expanding access to this critical infrastructure will help ensure rural America prospers for years to come.” 

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