USDA to provide $1.15 billion for rural broadband expansion

Department also invests over $3.7M to improve distance learning, telemedicine services in rural KY

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ/Press Release) – Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a significant expansion of access to high-speed internet, health care and educational services for millions of rural Americans nationwide.

“For too long, the ‘digital divide’ has left too many people living in rural communities behind, unable to compete in the global economy and unable to access the services and resources that all Americans need,” Vilsack said. “As we build back better than we were before, the actions I am announcing today will go a long way toward ensuring that people who live or work in rural areas are able to tap into the benefits of broadband, including access to specialized health care, educational opportunities and the global marketplace. Rural people, businesses and communities must have affordable, reliable, high-speed internet so they can fully participate in modern society and the modern economy.”

The department will begin accepting applications Nov. 24 for up to $1.15 billion in loans and grants to expand the availability of broadband in rural areas through the ReConnect Program.

The department plans to make available up to $200 million in ReConnect Program loans, up to $250 million in loan/grant combinations, up to $350 million in grants with a 25 percent matching requirement, and up to $350 million in grants with no matching requirement for projects in tribal and socially vulnerable communities.

Vilsack also announced today a $50 million investment in 105 rural distance learning and telemedicine projects in 37 states and Puerto Rico. These awards are being funded through USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program, which helps fund distance learning and telemedicine services in rural areas to increase access to education, training and health care resources that are otherwise limited or unavailable.

Included in this announcement are eight projects in Kentucky totaling almost $3.8 million.

Boyd County Public Schools will use $427,157 to develop distance learning, counseling and telecommunications capacity between schools and community partners, with a focus on students with substance abuse disorders. The project will impact more than 3,000 rural residents from Cannonsburg, Catlettsburg, Rush, and Summit in Boyd County.

Caverna Independent Schools will use $534,106 to acquire state-of-the-art video conferencing equipment for drug abuse awareness programs, virtual enrichment programs, and distance learning for dual credit classes. This project will impact approximately 700 students across the school district in both Hart and Barren counties.

Elizabethtown Community and Technical College will use $648,867 to launch the ECTC LIVE: Linking Innovative Virtual Education. The ECTC LIVE aims to provide distance learning opportunities to four rural areas in the ECTC service area. This project will equip classrooms with state-of-art technology at the ECTC-Main Campus site and in the remote sites of Leitchfield, Springfield, Meade County, and Green County. The technology provided through this grant program will enable the ECTC-Main Campus to offer more dual credit classes, more general education class offerings and community education classes via distance learning in a synchronized “real-time” classroom. The equipped classrooms will allow ECTC-Main Campus instructors to teach in a classroom in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and have students attend the same course from all four remote rural classroom sites. An estimated 3,000 students will benefit from this project.

Green County Board of Education will use $983,108 to provide distance learning through the Green County Schools PreK-12 Educational Enhancement and Expansion program.  The project will provide 82 dual camera/dual panel distance learning solutions within classrooms across the school district that will give students the ability to access curriculum and program offerings from across the state and country. This project will have an immediate impact on 1,600 students and approximately 100 adult evening learners within the first year. In addition, the distance learning solutions are expected to continue providing service for a 10-year period bringing an extended impact that could reach tens of thousands of rural residents over the course of the distance learning equipment’s useful life.

Marion County School District will use $244,763 to establish technological support for distance learning at the Marion County School District’s Career Academy in order to help meet teacher shortage needs and increase access to behavioral health services for students and families. The project will benefit 3,400 students from preschool through grade 12. Over the course of the 3-year project, Marion County School District’s will advance the technology at nine school sites by adding interactive distance learning systems to support virtual learning, increased STEM collaboration between middle and high schools, and to support efforts to fill teacher shortages by sharing teachers across sites as needed for subject matter content. Five community-based business partners will receive interactive distance learning systems to expand collaboration for the Career Academy. School sites will be equipped with tele-counseling/tele-medicine carts to support an increase in behavioral health services.

Northern Kentucky University will use $182,792 to help NorthKey Community Care and Northern Kentucky University social work offer virtual treatment for Substance Use Disorder at all of its offices. This project will help offer virtual school-based care programs in all schools in Carroll, Gallatin, Owen, and Pendleton counties. This project will also address the medical and behavioral needs for residents, especially those with substance use disorder. This telemedicine effort is projected to provide services to 14,500 area residents.

Ohio County Hospital Corporation will use $200,387 to enable Ohio County Healthcare to install a telehealth platform to provide healthcare to six rural locations in Ohio and Butler counties. Funds will be used to equip sites with mobile telehealth carts to be used on site. This project will improve quality of care and reduce the travel burden for an estimated 13,000 rural residents in Kentucky.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare, Inc. will use $570,211 to enhance their current telemedicine program by adding 33 telemedicine carts to 29 ARH hospitals or outpatient clinics located throughout Eastern Kentucky and Western West Virginia. Nineteen of these telemedicine carts will serve 17 outpatient clinic locations. Through the use of portable telemedicine units, patients at these rural clinics will be able to visit with a variety of specialists via video conferencing. The project will also fund the purchase of 14 inpatient carts for 12 hospital locations to assist with inpatient telemedicine consultations by various specialists including cardiology, pulmonology, and a telemedicine hospitalist program for some of ARH’s critical access hospitals. Six inpatient carts will also be purchased to provide telemedicine services between the six obstetrics units across the ARH system. These units will be utilized specifically for ARH’s only level two NICU in Hazard to provide consultative services to the other five obstetric units especially regarding Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome infants born to mothers with substance use disorder. An estimated 350,000 rural residents will have access to improved medical care through this project.

Under the Biden-Harris administration, USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities, create jobs and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety, and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural, Tribal and high-poverty areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.

Categories: Featured, Local News, News, State News