USDA last week announced it would begin accepting applications for grants to enhance telecommunications and broadcast services in rural areas, helping smaller communities have access to technologies that can improve health, education and other services.
"[The funding] will help open doors to the global marketplace," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack explained in an agency statement. "It will deliver specialized medical care and educational services. It will ensure that public television stations can fully convert to digital signals and transmit public safety, health, educational and cultural programming in isolated areas."
The funding is available from the Community Connect Grant Program, the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program, and the Public Television Station Digital Transition Grant Program.
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Through the Community Connect Grant Program, USDA plans to provide up to $13 million to fund broadband in unserved areas to support economic growth and deliver enhanced educational, health care and public safety services.
Awardees must serve an area where broadband does not exist, provide a community center with broadband access, and offer broadband service to all residential and business customers.
USDA is also making available up to $19.3 million in Distance Learning and Telemedicine program grants to fund access to rural education, training and health care resources. The DLT program finances telecommunications-enabled equipment and advanced technologies for people who live and work in rural areas.
In the Public Television Station Digital Transition Grant Program, USDA will provide up to $2 million as part of the Department's continued support of rural telecommunications and broadcast services. Funds can be used to acquire, lease or install equipment or software to complete the transition to digital broadcast signals.
While rural stations broadcast their main transmitter signal digitally, many also have translators serving small communities or isolated areas, and these still need to transition from analog to digital. Some rural areas also need fill-in translators, in cases when the signal reception from a main transmitter is lost.
More details are in the May 22, 2014 Federal Register.