Pioneer Connect will receive a $24.9 million grant to bring fiber-to-the-home connectivity to 1,528 locations in Benton, Lincoln and Polk counties. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week that it will award approximately $35 million to Oregon to provide high-speed internet access to rural communities along Oregon’s coast. The funding will benefit nearly 5,000 people, 100 businesses, 579 farms and two educational facilities in Benton, Lane, Lincoln and Polk counties.

Philomath-based Pioneer Connect will receive $24.9 million in the third funding round through USDA’s ReConnect program. The ReConnect 3 grant will bring fiber-to-the-home connectivity to 1,528 locations in Benton, Lincoln and Polk counties. According to Pioneer Connect, 296 miles of fiber will be constructed to provide increased speeds and enhanced reliability in those areas.

“High-speed broadband fosters economic development, allows rural communities to remain vibrant and enables people to work and live wherever they choose,” Pioneer Connect General Manager Jim Rennard said. “Telehealth, remote learning and changes in working arrangements all require broadband access. This project will make all this possible.”

ReConnect provides federal loans and grants to state and local governments, tribes and corporations to cover the costs of building broadband infrastructure to provide high-speed internet access to rural communities.

Rennard said building fiber in rural areas is challenging due to the terrain and expense of infrastructure.

“Fiber is the gold-standard and enables Pioneer to meet our members’ broadband needs for decades to come,” Rennard said. “FTTH (fiber to the home) means our customers don’t have to make compromises on speed or quality, share a connection with their neighbors or worry about things that impact service like weather, trees or terrain with other technologies.”

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday that the department will provide $759 million to bring high-speed internet access to people living and working across 24 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and Palau. The investments include funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides $65 billion to expand reliable, affordable, high-speed internet to all communities across the country.

Florence-based Hyak, which operates under Siuslaw Broadband LLC, will use a $10.6 million loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,407 people, 28 businesses, 21 farms and two educational facilities to high-speed internet in Lane County.

“Fast, reliable internet is essential for the growth and prosperity of Oregon’s rural communities,” USDA Rural Development State Director Margi Hoffmann said. “By partnering with local utilities and cooperatives, USDA will make sure that even our most rural households, farms and businesses have a chance to build a brighter, more connected future.”