USDA Examines ReConnect Program Populations

Households in nonmetro areas are more than four times as likely to lack broadband internet access as households in metro areas. To help bring broadband to rural areas, USDA’s ReConnect program provides grants and loans to internet providers to help finance the costs of providing high-speed internet through broadband services.

Funding areas served by projects must be rural and have 90 percent or more of households without access to broadband at minimum upload and download speeds. USDA Economic Research Service researchers examined ReConnect projects proposed in fiscal years 2019 and 2020, finding that the populations of areas eligible and areas of approved projects tended to have less formal educational attainment, more poverty, and more people over the age of 65.

About 53 percent of the population in ReConnect-eligible areas had high school or less educational attainment, compared with 40 percent in ineligible areas. Likewise, the poverty rate was higher in eligible areas, as was the portion of the population over age 65.