USDA WANTS MORE FOR RURAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS
Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman says USDA will expand efforts to bring farmers, rural residents and businesses greater access to improved telecommunication technology through the financing of more than $1.4 billion in loan and loan guarantees to rural telecommunications providers. In addition, Veneman announced that President Bush will propose spending $196 million for the program in the administration's fiscal 2004 budget.
The Secretary also announced that the administration will propose investing $177 million in fiscal 2004, an increase of $44.5 million, to upgrade its County Service Centers, most of which will be used to Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies to these offices, allowing farmers and ranchers more access to satellite mapping and planting information. County Service Centers are located throughout the U.S. and utilized by producers and other constituents to receive vital programs and services administered by USDA.
In making the announcement, the Secretary and Undersecretary for Rural Development Thomas Dorr joined Rural Utilities Service Administrator Hilda Legg in demonstrating how new technology can be used to serve rural areas. During a live two-way web cast linked to various rural businesses and community centers from across the country, they talked with residents and businesses who would benefit from the USDA loan program.
Officials from NEX-Tech Corporation in Kansas explained how they were able to develop broadband infrastructure to service all homes and businesses in three rural communities. Several local businesses have reported increased economic opportunities as a result.
One such example is Osborne Industries, a local agricultural services manufacturing company that through the high-speed connection has been better able to manage and market their products competitively in domestic and international markets.
Members of the University of Virginia Medical School in Charlottesville also discussed how they used the advanced technology to treat patients at a hospital in rural Virginia. Medical staff talked about how they were able to help a two-year old rural West Virginia boy who suffered from a severe heart condition. Through the expansion of broadband infrastructure to this rural community the child was provided medical treatment without having to travel from hospital to hospital.
Guidelines for the program and information on how to apply for loans, is available in Wednesday's Federal Register. Interested applicants can also obtain information by visiting USDA's web at http://www.usda.gov/.