ReConnect Rep Warns of ISPs Asking for More Subsidies Than Needed for Builds

Shekinah Pepper said Wednesday tribal communities should be on alert for service providers asking for chunks of subsidies upfront.

ReConnect Rep Warns of ISPs Asking for More Subsidies Than Needed for Builds
Photo of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack from 2010

WASHINGTON, Feb 3, 2022 – Shekinah Pepper, the general field representative for the Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program, warned tribal communities Wednesday that internet service providers may try demand from them more of their program subsidies than they need to build out broadband in their areas.

At an event hosted by the Agriculture Department, Pepper said that he has heard of different tribes that have been approached by service providers who demand that they give them 25 percent — or more — of their subsidies upfront for a build.

“When people start asking for money up front, I would be a little cautious,” said Pepper, adding if a tribe is approached by an ISP that wants a down payment, Pepper encourages awardees to confer with their general field representative as a precaution before moving forward.

“With the amount of money flying around, you do get groups that are out there looking for easy prey, and we just don’t want to see that happen,” Pepper said.

Wednesday’s event was convened to discuss the allocation of grant money to tribal and underserved communities in its third round of distribution, whose deadline for applications is February 22. Currently the program has about $1.15 billion dollars to distribute amongst different broadband projects.

The ReConnect Program is a subset of the Rural Utilities Service, an office within the Department of Agriculture. The program provides funding to broadband project across the country through grants, loans, or a combination of both. The program has put away $350 million in grants that can only be awarded to tribal communities or underserved communities.

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