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USDA Launches Rural Broadband Project

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expanding its efforts to bring high-speed Internet services to rural America through the financing of more than $1.4 billion in loans and loan guarantees to rural telecommunications providers. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said President Bush will propose spending $196 million for the program in its 2004 budget.

Veneman and Undersecretary for Rural Development Thomas Dorr joined Rural Utilities Service Administrator Hilda Legg in making the Wednesday announcement during a two-way webcast linked to various rural businesses and community centers from across the country.

"The expansion of this technology initiative will better equip our rural communities to enhance opportunities for economic development. These tools will help farmers, rural businesses, students and health care recipients, with new technologies and telecommunications services," Veneman said.

Veneman also announced that the administration will propose investing $177 million in 2004, an increase of $44.5 million, to upgrade its County Service Centers, most of which will be used to provide 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 programs and services administered by USDA.

"Economic and quality of life opportunities largely depend on access to markets and the ability to compete in the global digital economy," said Dorr. "The return on this investment will be the opportunity to create more jobs and stronger rural economies."