The US Agriculture Department is awarding combined grants and loans to two internet service providers in Southwest Michigan.  The operations in Barry, Allegan, and Van Buren counties will help with development of broadband internet connections to underserved rural areas. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the program support during a virtual press conference. The USDA is investing $22.5 million for two recipients in Michigan to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas. The investments are part of USDA’s round one investments made through the ReConnect Pilot Program. Barry County Services Company will use fiber-based broadband to connect farms, businesses, and 12 thousand residents spread out over 127 square miles. Southwest Michigan Communications will also employ a fiber-based linkup to connect farms, businesses, and nearly 8 thousand residents spread out over 100 square miles.

Secretary Purdue says, “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. 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.”

The awards include an $11.8 million loan/grant combination to Barry County Services Company for the communications links in Barry County. Southwest Michigan Communications Inc. is receiving a $10.7 million loan/grant combination to deploy Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband service to Van Buren and Allegan counties. The two projects will bring modern broadband service to nearly 20,000 residents.

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