First two rounds of USDA ReConnect broadband projects served a smaller share of eligible American Indians and Alaska Natives

Population shares in ReConnect areas in fiscal year 2019 to 2021 by race and ethnicity.

The ReConnect program is one of several USDA efforts to help improve broadband access in rural areas. Nearly 16 percent of households in nonmetro areas lacked access to broadband (high-speed internet) in December 2022, compared with about 3 percent of households in metro areas, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission. Researchers with the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) examined the racial and ethnic characteristics of the people in areas eligible for ReConnect grant and loan projects to understand how well the program has served different rural groups. Based on data from the first two rounds of ReConnect funding, initiated in fiscal years 2019 through 2021, researchers found that 3.4 percent of the overall American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) population in 2020 lived in areas eligible for ReConnect, which is targeted to rural areas with no broadband access. That marked a higher share of the population being eligible than for any other race or ethnicity, with the next closest being 0.7 percent of the White population. However, project applications came from organizations, such as internet service providers or telephone cooperatives, that served areas with lower shares of eligible AIAN people. For instance, even if every proposal in areas with an AIAN population had been funded, only 37 percent of the eligible AIAN population would have been reached, the second-lowest proportion across racial and ethnic groups. Approved projects served 10 percent of the eligible AIAN population, the lowest proportion of any racial or ethnic group. Overall, approved first and second round ReConnect projects are extending broadband service to 21 percent of the eligible population. This chart is drawn from the ERS report Three USDA Rural Broadband Programs: Areas and Populations Served, published in October 2023.

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