Thursday, December 17, 2009

First round of stimulus broadband grants issued

Vice President Joe Biden announced the first of 18 projects for rural broadband investment funded by the stimulus act today. Other first-round winners will be announced on a rolling schedule between now and February. For the initial list, click here.

An outline of the initial investment from the White House shows an initial concentration on so-called "middle-mile projects." The middle mile is the link between "last-mile," or far-flung, Internet connections and the network of large, high-bandwidth fiber optic cables that span the globe and are known as the Internet backbone. Additional investment in rural last-mile networks will also be funded through the stimulus act to communities where middle-mile investment is not enough to make last-mile service cost effective for private providers.

"President Obama appears to have struck the right balance with the initial announcements on broadband infrastructure awards," Laura M. Taylor, chief policy officer of Connected Nation, a broadband-promotion group, told The Rural Blog in an e-mail. "While the supply-side projects are obviously important for broadband stimulus efforts, effective demand-side programs are critical to accompany these network deployments if we hope to see any sustainable positive economic effects."
Taylor added, "Connected Nation research in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio shows that the largest barrier to broadband adoption is a lack of awareness about broadband’s benefits. Across these three states, 44 percent of those without a home broadband connection say 'I don’t need broadband.' Among vulnerable populations such as low-income residents, minorities, and people with disabilities, this awareness challenge is even greater."

UPDATE, Dec. 17: Cecilia Kang of The Washington Post reports that $212 million of the $183 million in grants go to middle-mile projects. The largest grant, $39.7 million, aims to bring broadband "to about 70 rural communities in upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont," Kang writes. "In northern Georgia, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about $33 million is to be spent on a project to help bring the area's 40,000 homes into the high-speed Internet age." Biden went to Dawsonville, Ga., to announce the grants.

The next largest grant, for $25 million, is for an 1,100-mile fiber-optic network in Maine. "The network will pass through more than 100 communities with 110,000 households and will connect 10 University of Maine campuses," Errine Haines of The Associated Press reports. "Other projects receiving funds include a 4G wireless network to be built by an Alaska Native Corporation in southwestern Alaska, a fiber-to-the-home project in a remote corner of New Hampshire and computer centers for 84 libraries in Arizona." (Read more)

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