Electric cooperatives can now apply for loans and grants for deploying rural broadband from two programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture totaling about $60 million for fiscal year 2018.

USDA is accepting applications for the Community Connect Grants and Rural Broadband Access Loan program. These programs allow co-ops to compete with internet service providers for funds to bring broadband to their members.

"This is a great opportunity for co-ops that are looking to deploy broadband to their un- or under-served communities and member-consumers," said Brian O'Hara, NRECA regulatory issues director.

Community Connect Grants will make $34.5 million available for grants ranging from $100,000 to $3 million. Winning applicants will be required to match at least 15 percent of the grant.

The grants must be used to provide a minimum service of 25 megabits per second downstream and 3 mbps upstream. Any area that already has a provider of 10 mbps downstream/1 mbps upstream is ineligible for funding from this program.

USDA has scheduled webinars for potential Community Connect Grants participants, with recording of the webinars available beginning April 17. The application window closes on May 14, 2018.

The Rural Broadband Access Loan program funding is at $27 million this year, and loan amounts have been raised to between $100,000 and $25 million.

To be eligible, applicants must be able to provide internet access of at least 25 mbps downstream and 3 mbps upstream to areas that lack such service.

The agency will accept loan applications on a rolling basis through Sept. 30.