Funding Announcement is Part of Broadband Infrastructure Investment

Oct. 22, 2021 

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a significant expansion of access to high-speed internet, health care and educational services for millions of rural Americans nationwide. 

The announcement continues to move forward President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda by prioritizing economic growth in rural America and investing in the backbone of our country – the middle class.

“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.”

USDA Rural Development Maine Acting State Director Tommy R. Higgins said:

“This investment will help provide increased access to education and healthcare services for 174,400 rural Maine people. Through distance learning and telemedicine equipment, rural students will have access to state-of-the-art technology to broaden their horizons, while rural patients will have access to quality healthcare without having to travel long distances.” 

In Maine, three organizations will receive Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants totaling $730,510:

·   University of Maine System will receive a Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant in the amount of $113,008. This Rural Development investment will be used to develop and connect the University of Maine’s Aquaculture Teaching Lab to K-12 schools, a community college and technical training centers throughout the state of Maine. It will also establish a distance learning connection with the University of Maine’s main campus. The lab is located at the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin, Maine. Funds will enable the center to purchase video telecommunications hardware, software, and related equipment, as well as outfitting the lab with state-of-the-art sensors and controls allowing over 200 students per year to remotely access and interact with the lab, expanding the reach of UMaine’s aquaculture programming.  

·   Medical Care Development, Inc. will receive a Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant in the amount of $254,192. This Rural Development investment will be used to bring Medical Care Development, Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare, Aroostook Mental Health Services (AMHC), and the National Digital Equity Center together to improve access to telehealth, specifically in Aroostook and Washington counties, with the primary focus being to treat individuals who live in these two counties that suffer from a substance and opioid use disorder.  Services are projected to be provided to over 2,200 residents.

·   Unity College will receive a Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant in the amount of $363,310. This Rural Development investment will be used to support the Unity College Hyflex Classroom Project, which is an initiative of the college’s newest sustainable education business unit (the Technical Institute for Environmental Professions). Students will have opportunities to build in-demand professional skills and earn Associate’s degrees, or professional certifications. The project will help integrate virtual reality technology and help students in rural areas interact with diverse colleagues all across the globe.  The project will enhance educational opportunities for an estimated 172,000 residents in the rural towns near the two project sites.

Background: Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants

Vilsack 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 (DLT) program. This program 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.

USDA’s distance learning and telemedicine investment includes a $387,000 grant to OSF Healthcare System to help establish a telehealth network for 107,000 rural residents in central Illinois. Additionally, UHS of Texoma, Inc. is receiving a $199,015 grant to implement a distance learning system to improve mental health services for 8,000 people in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma.

For additional information on the upcoming ReConnect Program funding opportunity, see the Oct. 22, 2021, Federal Register. Once the application window opens, applications must be submitted through USDA Rural Development’s online application system on the ReConnect webpage. All required materials for completing an application are included in the online system. To learn more about ReConnect Program eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements, visit

Background: ReConnect Program

Secretary Vilsack spoke about USDA’s commitment to helping rural Americans get improved access to broadband and health care during a visit to the newly renovated emergency department at Hammond Henry Hospital. The project was financed in part by a USDA loan.

He announced that on November 24 USDA will begin accepting applications for up to $1.15 billion in loans and grants to expand the availability of broadband in rural areas. USDA is making the funding available through the ReConnect Program.

To be eligible for ReConnect Program funding, an applicant must serve an area without broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 20 Mbps (upload), and commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to every location in its proposed service area. In making funding decisions, USDA will prioritize projects that will serve low-density rural areas with locations lacking internet access services at speeds of at least 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload). In making funding decisions, the USDA will also consider, among other things, the economic needs of the community to be served; the extent to which a provider will offer affordable service options; a project’s commitment to strong labor standards; and whether a project is serving tribal lands or is submitted by a local government, Tribal Government, non-profit or cooperative.

USDA has simplified the application process and has expanded the program significantly. For example, ReConnect will now offer 100 percent grants for certain projects on tribal lands and in socially vulnerable communities.

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.

Under the Biden-Harris Administration, 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