January 28, 2010

U.S. Government Allocates $320 Million for Rural Broadband Projects

I occasionally blog about the digital divide that exists in developing nations; namely, the issue of that many people in the world’s financially impoverished nations do not have access to the Internet. While the United States is certainly not financially impoverished, a digital divide does exist when comparing Internet access by remote or rural communities to those residing in urban areas. Many people and businesses located in rural America are increasingly becoming dependent on modern information and communications technology (ICT) services to obtain education, financial, and health services. Therefore, I was pleased to read a recent announcement by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve the ICT infrastructure in specific rural areas located throughout the United States. (Photo of Cherryvale, Kansas (population 2386) courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture)

In a press release dated January 25, 2010, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack “announced the selection of fourteen Recovery Act Broadband Infrastructure projects that will receive $309,923,352 through funding made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). An additional $3,551,887 in private investment brings the total to $313,475,239. Altogether, Congress awarded USDA $2.5 billion in Recovery Act funding to help bring broadband services to rural un-served and underserved communities.”

Here is a sampling of the 14 projects receiving grants and loans: Providing middle mile connectivity to 65 communities in Southwestern Alaska, expanding high speed DSL broadband service to remote, unserved households in rural Alabama and fiber-to-the premises broadband service to unserved homes and businesses in North Dakota. Furthermore, people residing in remote and rural communities in Tennessee will see an upgrade to the infrastructure that provide advanced voice, video, and data services exceeding 20 megabytes per second (Mbps), an expansion of fiber-based broadband access to approximately 1,500 households, local businesses and anchor institutions in central California, and extending existing fiber network by building out from the nearest fiber splice point through the funded service area in Oregon, which will provide broadband connectivity to residential and business end users.

USDA explains that “funding of individual recipients is contingent upon their meeting the terms of the loan, grant or loan/grant agreement.” While I continue to be concerned with the increase debt the U.S. government is incurring, I am encouraged to see some the funds provided by ARRA invested in ICT infrastructure to close the digital divide that exists in rural America.

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