USDA awards Michigan grants and loans to expand high-speed internet to rural areas
The Baraga Telephone Company would be focusing on providing this access to homes and facilities around Houghton County
BARAGA, Mich. (WLUC) - As part of its reconnect loan and grant program, the U.S Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) is distributing $59 million to communities across rural Michigan.
“The breakdown of the $59 million was $52.6 million in grants and $6.4 million in loans,” said USDA Michigan State Director Brandon Fewins. “The vast majority is purely grant dollars that is coming back into rural Michigan.”
Of that amount, two U.P providers are receiving a combined $37.8 million.
Those two are the Baraga Telephone Company (BTC) and Upper Peninsula Telephone Company (UPTC).
The award is intended for use in expanding high-speed internet access in rural areas.
Fewins says the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the areas that needed this access the most.
“The need has been out there for several years,” continued Fewins. “This has been building, but the pandemic really accelerated and highlighted the gaps that we have.”
The BTC will use its $3,302,981 loan to extend internet connection to 362 people, farms, and businesses in Houghton County.
This has been an area of interest for both the BTC and Chassell Township.
“For a long time, for both the Baraga Telephone Company as well as Chassell Township,” said BTC Vice President Koray Inal. “This was a huge area of interest for us to deploy broadband and it was always in our plans to do it, but the availability of funding is going to help us speed that up.”
According to Inal, the pandemic also pushed people into remote areas like the U.P, creating the demand for the internet in these places.
“In the last couple of years, we have seen a huge influx of calls coming in,” continued Inal. “People from outside the area hoping to move here, asking whether broadband and whether sufficient high-speed broadband will be available in certain locations that they are potentially looking to move into.”
The UPTC will use a $34,532,301 grant to provide similar coverage. They were not available to discuss their plan.
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