NEK Broadband Gets More Than $17 Million for Infrastructure Through USDA ReConnect
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a $17,463,911 grant award to NEK Community Broadband (NEK Broadband) through the USDA ReConnect Loan & Grant Program.
The investment, along with a $5,821,304 contribution from NEK Broadband, will be used to deploy a high-speed internet network to benefit 3,295 people, 94 businesses, 183 farms and 11 educational facilities across 22 towns in Caledonia, Essex and Orleans counties. NEK Broadband will make access more affordable for low-income residents by participating in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program.
“For families in Caledonia, Essex and Orleans counties, today is a significant moment,” said Sarah Waring, USDA Rural Development State Director for Vermont and New Hampshire. “We are thrilled to help this monumental effort by NEK Broadband to impact the lives of rural residents. With this landmark investment in Vermont’s broadband infrastructure, the people, businesses and organizations in areas of the Northeast Kingdom are one step closer to unprecedented access and speed, resulting in more opportunities to find work, find help, stay healthy and stay in touch. ”
The announcement marks the first ReConnect grant awarded in Vermont or New Hampshire. In 2021, NEK Broadband received $190,380 through USDA’s Rural Business Development Grant Program to extend broadband to the western part of Concord, Vermont, and the town of Waterford. The grant funded 6.7 miles of fiber for advanced telecom capabilities to benefit businesses and public institutions along the Connecticut River Byway, creating or maintaining roughly 20 jobs.
Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is one of five Rural Economic Area Partnership Zones in the US—known as REAP Zones. In 1995, USDA designated two areas in North Dakota as the first REAP Zones. In 1999, two regions in New York received the same recognition, as did Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom in 2000. USDA established the Partnership to address critical issues related to constraints in economic activity and growth, low density settlement patterns, stagnant or declining employment, and isolation that has led to disconnection from markets, suppliers, and centers of information and finance.