Today, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Peter Welch (D-VT) and Representative Becca Balint (VT-AL), announced that NEK Community Broadband (NEKCB) will receive Vermont’s first ever United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network in Caledonia, Essex, and Orleans counties in Vermont. NEK Broadband will receive more than $17 million in grant funds through USDA ReConnect, helping to connect some of the most rural communities in Vermont with affordable, high-speed internet. Additional information on the grant will be made available during a press event in June.
“To thrive in today’s digital economy, rural communities need access to the same consistent, high-speed broadband that’s available in our urban centers,” said Sen. Welch. “Support from ReConnect will help families and businesses in the Northeast Kingdom access high-quality broadband, without breaking the bank. It’s an amazing step forward for broadband deployment in Vermont. I’m grateful to the folks at USDA for helping us bring this important funding home to Vermont.”
“If there was ever any doubt, the last few years have made it absolutely clear: Broadband is a fundamental, essential service necessary for Vermonters to work, learn, and access health care,” said Sen. Sanders. “For too long, large pockets of our state have been denied this critical resource because companies haven’t found it profitable enough to invest. This federal funding is transformative, because the money is going directly to the very communities who will benefit, instead of having to go through those who care more about profits than delivering service. I look forward to seeing this grant support all the great work already happening in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and how it will help encourage the development of new opportunities for years to come.”
“The growing digital divide is leaving rural low-income families and students behind,” said Rep. Balint. “That’s why federal investments in rural broadband will be so impactful for communities like the Northeast Kingdom. I’m thankful that these funds are reaching Vermonters and I look forward to seeing the opportunity it will bring to our state.”
“This is award will enable NEK Broadband to complete 321 miles of infrastructure across 22 of our most rural and underserved towns, complimenting the $21 million network we are currently building with ARPA funds awarded through the Vermont Community Broadband Board,” said Christa Shute, Executive Director of NEK Broadband. “A huge thank you to the work of the USDA staff and our partners, Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom and the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, for helping make this happen.”
“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. With the resilient leadership of the Biden-Harris Administration, support from our Congressional partners, and organizations like NEK Broadband, the ReConnect Program now has a firm foothold in our jurisdiction, and we are confident it will continue to create high-speed connections—and a higher quality of life—within other areas of Vermont and New Hampshire.”
The announcement comes as part of Sen. Welch’s first hearing as Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Rural Development and Energy Subcommittee on the importance of expanding broadband access. Christa Shute, Executive Director of NEK Broadband, will testify. Earlier today, Sen. Welch introduced the bipartisan Reconnecting Rural America Act with Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS), a bill to reauthorize and strengthen the ReConnect program. USDA ReConnect plays a pivotal role in rural broadband deployment, providing loans and grants to help rural communities across the country expand access to reliable, high-speed broadband.