New broadband projects score $795 million in funding

The Obama administration announces subsidies for 66 new broadband deployment projects aimed at keeping companies in rural America competitive

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration will announce nearly $795 million in grants and loans for broadband deployment projects across the nation on Friday, officials with two federal agencies said.

The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the U.S. Rural Utilities Service (RUS) will officially announce awards for 66 new broadband projects that will touch all 50 states, Obama administration officials said. The money, from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by the U.S. Congress in early 2009, is expected to create or save about 5,000 jobs, officials said.

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The top goal for the grants and loans "is to put Americans back to work immediately, managing projects, digging the trenches, laying fiber-optic cable, and stringing up those utility poles," said Gary Locke, secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the parent agency of the NTIA.

Another goal is to give an economic boost to parts of the country by providing new broadband service, Locke said during a prebriefing with reporters Thursday evening. The new broadband subsidies will bring service to 685,000 businesses, 900 health-care facilities, and 2,400 schools, he said.

The new awards will enable farmers to better track crop prices, enable rural health-centers to offer telemedicine services, and allow schools to provide distance learning services, added Tom Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the parent agency of the RUS. "It will also allow us to keep the United States at the center of innovation, and keep the companies that are located in rural America competitive, creating more opportunity and new jobs," he said.

In the Recovery Act, Congress allocated $7.2 billion to the NTIA and RUS for broadband grants and loans. The NTIA will award $404 million to 29 projects Friday, and the grants will finance 6,000 miles of new fiber-optic lines, Locke said. Most of the money will finance middle-mile broadband network projects.

The NTIA has previously awarded $1.6 billion in broadband grants.

The RUS will award $390.9 million on Friday, with $163 million in loans and the rest in grants. The RUS has previously awarded $1.4 billion in Recovery Act funds to broadband projects. Most of the RUS money is focused on last-mile broadband projects.

Private investment of more than $200 million will help fund the projects announced Friday, the officials said.

Among the new awards:

-- University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development: A $62.5 million grant, with a $34.3 million match from the applicant, will connect more than 30 existing research and educational networks, creating a nation-wide high-capacity network that will enable advanced networking features for more than 100,000 community anchor institutions, such as hospitals and schools. The project will span all 50 states.

-- Hardy Telecommunications: $31.6 million in grants and loans will help build a fiber network in Hardy County, West Virginia, to serve more than 14,000 people, 200 business and more than 100 community institutions.

-- Wilkes Telephone & Electric: $48.1 million in grants and loans will help build a fiber network in Lincoln, Taliaferro, and Wilkes counties in Georgia. The project will bring broadband to more than 20,000 people.

-- Massachusetts Technology Park: This $45.4 million grant, with an additional $26.2 million from the applicant, will lay 1,300 miles of fiber in western Massachusetts. The project will bring broadband to more than 1 million people and 44,000 businesses.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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