Montgomery County in southwest Iowa is on the cusp of becoming the first county in the nation to offer fiber optic internet connectivity to all residents, thanks in part to funding announced last week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ReConnect program.

More than 300 people attended a special event that saw Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announce a $6.4 million award to Farmers Mutual Telephone Company (FMTC) on Dec. 12, to continue its high-speed internet roll out to the region.

“Because of programs available to us through USDA… we have been allowed, and been able to afford, to do what we do by taking fiber optic connectivity to 100% of the residents,” Kevin Cabbage, FMTC general manager and CEO, said during the event held at the Old Lumber Yard Company.

Cabbage noted the cost of the fiber roll out to Montgomery and Page counties was $20 million. In total, 477 households, 35 farms and 21 businesses will get internet thanks to this project.

“This has been no small task,” he said.

“Iowa is home to creative entrepreneurs who are driving technological innovation across the heartland,” Reynolds said. “By leveraging local, state and federal resources, we are investing like never before in broadband connectivity and sparking revitalization across rural Iowa.”

Round two announced

In addition to the FMTC award, Perdue announced a second round of ReConnect funds would be opened in 2020. For its part, USDA will make available up to $200 million for grants, up to $200 million for 50/50 grant/loan combinations, and up to $200 million for low-interest loans.

The application window for this round of funding will open Jan. 31, 2020. Applications for all funding products will be accepted in the same application window, which will close no later than March 16, 2020.

“This second round of ReConnect funding will help USDA be an even stronger partner in closing the digital divide in America’s rural communities,” Perdue said. “Our core mission at USDA is to increase rural prosperity through boosting economic opportunity in rural America. We know that rural communities need robust, modern infrastructure to thrive, and that includes having access to broadband e-Connectivity.”

These grants, loans and combination funds enable the federal government to partner with the private sector and rural communities to build modern broadband infrastructure in areas with insufficient internet service. Insufficient service is defined as connection speeds of less than 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload.

For the first round of the ReConnect program, USDA received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding.

To date, USDA has awarded $191 million through the ReConnect program with offers out to 47 additional potential recipients totaling more than $600 million in investments.

Additional investments will be made in the coming weeks.

Cabbage said FMTC will apply for the second round of funding to continue fiber optic roll out with an ultimate goal of offering high speed internet to everyone living and working in the company’s four-county region.

USDA said it is reviewing applications and announcing approved projects on a rolling basis.