The footwork done by researchers at The University of Texas-Pan American has led to almost $80 million in federal money to bring broadband to rural communities as far as hundreds of miles away.

On Monday, April 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it was awarding a $38.5 million grant and $40 million loan to Raymondville-based Valley Telephone Cooperative Inc. to construct broadband infrastructure to 12 underserved areas from Lyford to George West.

UTPA’s Texas Rural Cooperative Center spent more than a month traveling the South Texas neighborhoods, conducting interviews and compiling information for the company to use in applying for the grant. That research helped make the application for the financial assistance more competitive, said George Bennack, associate director of business development for UTPA’s Business Development Centers.

This project will be the platform for the University’s efforts to promote rural economic development in South Texas, Bennack said.

“In a sense this was the missing link,” Bennack said. “This is a very important milestone because it provides the broadband infrastructure necessary for us to be effective with our rural economic development strategy.”

Expanding broadband capabilities to these rural locales will provide opportunities for existing businesses to grow and new ones to move to the area, as well as making education available for students, said Victor Vasquez, USDA deputy undersecretary for rural development.

“I see something happening in 11 to 12 communities that would never happen without private sector, public sector, nonprofit, an entire region working together to serve underserved communities,” Vasquez said.

Valley Telephone Cooperative will spend the next three years building the infrastructure. Once completed, broadband service will be available to more than 19,000 households, 778 businesses and 196 institutions, Vasquez said.

The company plans to start installing fiber optic lines as early as this summer, said Dave Osborn, general manager of Valley Telephone Cooperative.

Osborn said the company has wanted to expand broadband service throughout South Texas for years.

“This is the fulfillment of a dream,” he said.

It will cost about $1,800 per home to install the lines, Osborn said.

Customers can expect to pay less than $100 per month for telephone, video and Internet services, he said.

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