The U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide $8.9 million in grants to rural communities without broadband Internet service for residential service and to connect facilities, such as police and fire statioins, health care, libraries and schools.

Grants are available to communities in the most rural, economically challenged areas where loans will not be sustainable. In Horseshoe Bend, Idaho, for example, no company had invested in providing broadband delivery to the community of 770 people. But local businesses, schools and residents worked with the BitSmart Corp. to file a USDA Community Connect Grant, which was approved.

Now, BitSmart has established wireless Internet and an integrated system connecting law enforcement, health care providers, and school and government offices. Students in a high school business class also are serving as BitSmart's local operations staff.

Applications for grants are due by close of business Aug. 13. There is a minimum grant level of $50,000 and a maximum level of $1 million for projects. The application guide for the grant program can be found at www.usea.gov/rus/telecom/.