Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $190.5 million in grants and loans to make broadband and other advanced communications infrastructure improvements in rural areas.

"Modern telecommunications and broadband access is now as essential to the businesses and residents of rural America as electricity was in the 1930s," Vilsack said. "USDA is committed to ensuring that rural Americans have robust broadband and telecommunications systems. The investments we are announcing today will provide broadband in areas that lack it, help rural-serving public television stations begin using digital broadcasts, and support other telecommunications infrastructure improvements."

USDA is providing assistance through the Community Connect Grant program, the Public Television Digital Transition Grant program and the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan program.

Community Connect grants establish broadband service in rural areas to boost economic growth and offer educational, health care, social and public safety benefits. Public television grants help public television stations serving rural areas acquire the equipment they need to transition from analog to digital broadcasts. Telecommunications infrastructure loans help maintain, upgrade or expand rural telecommunications networks.

Through today's announcement, USDA is providing $190.5 million for 25 projects in 19 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Funding is contingent upon the recipients meeting the terms of their grant or loan agreements.

In Arkansas, Arkwest Communications is receiving a $24 million telecommunications loan to provide voice, broadband, and internet TV service to nearly 4,000 customers and to make other system improvements.

Nexus Systems, in Monroe, La., is receiving a $2.5 million Community Connect grant to provide high-speed broadband in the Powhatan, La., area. Powhatan is sparsely populated, economically distressed and considered a persistent poverty area. USDA is targeting assistance to the region through its StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative.

Public television broadcasters serving the U.S. Virgin Islands will use a $750,000 USDA grant to replace analog mobile production and satellite equipment with a digital high-definition video recorder. Congress reauthorized the public television grant program in the 2014 Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since its enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation. The Department has provided disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthened risk management tools; expanded access to rural credit; funded critical research; established innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developed new markets for rural-made products; and invested in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve the quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.

President Obama's historic investments in rural America have made our rural communities stronger. Under his leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities.