USDA Rural Development Offers Information on Statewide Grant Opportunities

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, July 30, 2013 –  Representatives from USDA Rural Development on Wednesday convened a round-table discussion to spread the word about various broadband and telecommunication grant opportunities.

The meeting, held at the Association of Illinois Electrical Cooperatives office in Springfield, convened members of the healthcare, education and telecommunication communities.

“We’re here today to talk about the new world connectivity,’ said Colleen Callahan, Illinois Director of Rural Development. “It was electricity, and now it’s broadband. It’s appropriate that we’re here to talk about where we go next in order to meet the needs to people who live in our rural communities.”

Callahan said that when she took her position nine years ago, she immediately began fielding calls from people in rural areas asking about broadband internet connectivity.

“It was quickly recognized as a need,” she said.  “We are sincere in providing you with as much information as possible about trying to meet the needs that you have in rural school districts, community colleges, health care, electric coops, engineering, broadband and telecommunications.”

Chris Collins, General Field Representative, Rural Utilities Service, outlined dozens of grant opportunities during the discussion.  

“One of my goals is to bring the awareness of some of our programs,” he said. “I have seen very few (USDA-funded) projects come out of Illinois and I want to spread the word.”

Collins discussed the following opportunities, among others:

-       Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan Program: Loans to improve or extend telecommunications service in rural communities with populations less than 5,000.

-       Farm Bill Broadband Loan Program: Loans to build and upgrade broadband services in rural high-cost areas in rural cities between 20,000 and 50,000 people.

-       Community Connect Program: Grants for broadband service providers and others to bring broadband services to remote rural areas with populations less than 20,000 people.

-       Distance Learning/Telemedicine Grant Program: Grants for equipment needed to provide distance learning and telemedicine services to rural residents and anchor institutions.

Clayton Black, Broadband Illinois eTeam Leader, said the meeting was a great opportunity for entities looking to make a difference.

"Broadband Illinois appreciates USDA taking the time to talk about their funding opportunities that they have available as we were able to learn of new ones moving forward as well as get valuable direction on the USDA RUS Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant which we are currently working on,” he said.  “This annual opportunity lets us circle around to all of the broadband related education and telehealth needs we have learned about over the last year and pursue funding to help fill holes in rural broadband usage in our part of the State.”

Black said that in the past, the USDA has supported funding mechanisms for rural electrification, and in much the same way, their broadband loans and grants are helping connect rural communities to the Internet.

“As with all reoccurring grants this is an opportunity for Broadband Illinois eTeams to do what we do best in connecting, convening, and collaborating with stakeholders to assemble meaningful solutions."

Tags: Grant Opportunities, Rural Development, USDA

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