Vice President Joe Biden announced Dec. 17 an initial $183 million investment in 18 broadband projects benefiting 17 states to lay a new foundation for high-speed Internet economic growth. Over the next 75 days, another $2 billion will be made available on a rolling basis to communities that currently have little or no access to the technology.
The funds are the first in the $7.2 billion program-$4.7 billion through the Department of Commerce's NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) and $2.5 through the Department of Agriculture's RUS (Rural Utilities Service)-being implemented under the Recovery Act to expand broadband access and adoption across the country.
"New broadband access means more capacity and better reliability in rural areas and underserved urban communities around the country. Businesses will be able to improve their customer service and better compete around the world," Biden said at an event at Impulse Manufacturing in Dawsonville, Ga. "This is what the Recovery Act is all about-sparking new growth, tapping into the ingenuity of the American people and giving folks the tools they need to help build a new economy in the 21st century."
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke also traveled to Bangor, Maine, where he announced $25.4 million in grants to build broadband infrastructure throughout rural and disadvantaged portions of parts of the state. On Dec. 22, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will travel to Ohio to discuss how a $2.4 million broadband award will help boost economic development in the region and connect the local community to the smart energy grid.
"These broadband investments continue the Obama administration's efforts to create jobs, expand economic opportunities and build a stronger rural America," Vilsack said in a statement. "We must take steps to keep the institutions that are the heart and soul of our communities strong, and that is why many of these grants and loans support anchor institutions-such as libraries, public buildings and community centers-that are necessary for the viability of rural communities."
The awards granted Dec. 17 are split between four different types of investments: middle mile awards-$121.6 million to build and improve connections to communities lacking sufficient broadband access; last mile awards-$51.4 million to connect users like homes, hospitals and schools to their communities' middle mile broadband infrastructure; public computing-$7.3 million to expand computer center capacity for public use in libraries, community colleges and other public venues; and sustainable adoption-$2.4 million to fund innovative projects that promote broadband demand with population groups where the technology has traditionally been underutilized.
The top middle mile award was $33.5 million to the North Georgia Network Cooperative, with an additional $8.8 million in matching funds to deploy a 260-mile regional fiber-optic ring to deliver gigabit broadband speeds and interconnection points for last mile service in the North Georgia foothills. Anchorage's Rivada Sea Lion also received a $25.3 million grant with $6.4 million of leveraged funds in middle and last mile grants for 4G broadband Internet service availability to more than 9,000 unserved locations in a 90,000 square mile area.
"Expanding high-speed Internet access is critical to improving America's economic competitiveness," Locke said. "Unless we use the 21st century tools at our disposal, America will never be as connected as it could be. And that connection is crucial for our economic future."