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USDA Grants Aim To Bring Rural Towns Online

Irene Grassi / https://www.flickr.com/photos/sun_sand_sea

The USDA is offering up nearly $12 million in funding to increase internet access in rural communities.

The annual federal grant program has funded one major Indiana broadband project in the past -- an $800,000 community computer center for Harrison County, near Kentucky.

Phil Lehmkuhler is the USDA's rural director in Indiana. He says it's hard to do business these days without the web -- more goods and services go online every year, putting disconnected towns at an increasing disadvantage.

"The longer they're off the grid, I think, the more harm to their economy," Lehmkuhler says. "And even to individuals. I mean, you can get a degree online now."

There are plenty of Hoosiers who live and work off the grid -- but Lehmkuhler says the state doesn't know exactly where they are. They're working with cable companies on mapping that information in hopes of creating more access.

The USDA grants are available to governments, service providers and nonprofits to install basic cable or wireless to benefit as many rural residents as possible. Last year, funding went to five projects in Alaska, Oklahoma, Virginia and Minnesota.

Applications for 2016 are due June 17.


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