On August 1st Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $97 million in 12 projects to provide or improve rural broadband service in 11 states, including Missouri.

 “A person’s location should not determine whether he or she has access to modern communications infrastructure,” Secretary Perdue said. “That is why USDA is partnering with businesses and communities by investing in state-of-the-art broadband e-connectivity to remote and rural areas. These investments will expand access to educational, social and business opportunities for 22,000 subscribers to help grow their rural communities and America’s economy.”

USDA is making the investments through the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan Program and the Community Connect Grant Program. In Missouri, the Northeast Missouri Rural Telephone Company, in Green City, is receiving a $13.7 million loan to convert six exchanges from copper plant to fiber-to-the-premises. It will construct nearly 500 route miles of fiber. Northeast Missouri expects to improve service to 1,063 subscribers.

NEMR Telecom, a locally owned cooperative, serves more than 4,900 members, connecting more than 5,200 homes across northeast Missouri.

The company began the transition to fiber optics in 2008 with Memphis being the first to transition to the new technology.

CEO Michele Gillespie indicated the cooperative plans to now have all its 14 exchanges served by fiber by the spring of 2021.

The company plans to install fiber to the home in the Omaha and Martinstown exchanges this year before tackling the Queen City exchange in 2019. The final three exchanges, Pollock, Lemons and Winigan are scheduled for 2020.

“Rural prosperity can only truly be achieved by connecting rural America to high-speed internet,” said Jeff Case, USDA Rural Development Missouri State Director.  “USDA is very pleased to be able to partner with Northeast Missouri Rural Telephone Company to expand rural Missourians’ access to broadband and we’re excited for the subsequent economic opportunities for these communities.”

The projects USDA is investing in will help improve the quality of life in rural communities in Arizona, Iowa, Idaho, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

These investments underscore USDA’s priority to promote rural economic development by centering around three principles: infrastructure, partnerships and innovation. Investing in telecommunications infrastructure connects people to each other: businesses to customers, farmers to markets, and students to a world of knowledge.

In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. As proven by the report, e-connectivity is more than just connecting rural America to rest of the world. It is a vital tool for productivity, education, and health care. These investments will be key catalysts for facilitating rural prosperity through economic development and workforce readiness, and for improving quality of life.

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community services such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.