It’s been three years now since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic underscored how essential internet access is to our lives and livelihoods — and rural advocates have been sounding that message for much longer still. In that time though, the effort to get all Americans connected has been making some steady progress at the local, state, and federal levels.

One such effort is ReConnect Broadband, a loan and grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). ReConnect Broadband received a big boost in funding when President Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure law more than one year ago. Graphic Journalist Nhatt Nichols takes a closer look at how that is now beginning to manifest in real ways, with the delivery of high-speed internet service to rural communities across America.

comic panel illustration shows a worker carrying a ladder and reads In the year since the infrastructure bill passed, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has stayed busy with its ReConnect Broadband initiative.
comic panel illustration shows an A frame cabin in the woods and reads The initiative provides grants and loans to rural areas to cover the costs associated with providing internet in places where it might not be economically feasible for a commercial enterprise to offer this much-needed service.
comic panel illustration shows a portrait of USDA Undersecretary Xochitl Torres Small and reads "We received about $2 billion of the $65 billion in the President's bipartisan infrastructure law for high-speed internet. We've already awarded over $500 million of those dollars."
comic panel illustration shows a student in front of a laptop and reads That money is making an impact for rural people. Torres Small spoke with on child in rural Georgia who had been teased because he had to do his homework at Chick-fil-A. After his home received fiber through the ReConnect program, he could do his homework at home, with reliable high-speed internet.
comic panel illustration shows Torres Small saying "It just shows that kids know what's fair; they know what's equitable. They know that if you live in a rural area, you should be able to have the same high-speed internet that some kid in the city does."
comic panel illustration shows vegetable leaves sprouting from a laptop screen and reads It isn't just remote office workers and school-aged children benefiting from high-speed internet. Farmers also benefit from the USDA's requirement that new broadband provides speeds of 100 Mbps (Megabits per second) for both uploading and downloading.
comic panel illustration shows seedlings rising from a field along with wifi signals and reads According to Torres Small, one farmer in Goochland, Virginia, said he can be the best steward of his land because the upload speed allows him to quickly share crucial information that helps guide decisions about watering and fertilizer.
comic panel illustration shows Torres Small saying "It's exciting to see how when we invest in rural places, their focus is how to do their job in ways that support all of our country."
comic panel illustration shows an internet modem and reads A recent Government Accountability Office report criticized USDA for not having clear and specific goals for what they want the ReConnect program to accomplish.
comic panel illustration shows a small town on a river and reads USDA has taken that as an opportunity to refocus on documenting the difficulty of funding broadband in rural areas without the ReConnect program's help.
comic panel illustration shows a construction vehicle on a winding country road and reads In addition to documenting the number of households served, they are now counting the miles of fiber constructed, the service costs to homes and businesses, and which connected areas are considered socially vulnerable.
comic panel illustration shows Torres Small in front of a remote island saying "This more complete picture reflects why it can be so hard to reach rural places. It, frankly, just costs a lot more when laying fiber on the seafloor to reach an island off the coast. When you're getting fiber in an Alaskan community that doesn't have a road to it, that's going to cost more. Collecting the data around the length of that fiber, or the work done there, helps us better understand that picture."
comic panel illustration shows a picturesque rural vista and reads Prince Wales Island in southeast Alaska is one of those difficult-to-reach spots that has received a ReConnect grant to install underwater cables.
comic panel shows a large boat pulling a line of red cable and reads SEALink South installed submarine fiber optic cable between the communities of Price of Wales Island, Petersburg, and Juneau. Installation of this cable was completed in October of 2022, and Alaska Power and Telephone, the company behind the installation, is working to connect homes in Coffman Cove and Kasaan.
comic panel illustration shows Alaska US Senator Lisa Murkowski saying "This new installment will allow Prince of Wales Island a direct cable connection to the continental US for the first time in history — a truly significant milestone."
comic panel illustration shows Senator Murkowski saying "Alaskans are versatile and resilient and have found ways to adapt to the lack of basic needs that many Americans may take for granted — but even so, they deserve to have access to quality broadband."

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