Monday, June 28, 2010

First round of economic-stimulus rural broadband funding could offer insight into future awards

The Rural Utilities Service recently released its detailed report of the first round of rural broadband awards from the economic stimulus package, offering insight for communities planning to apply for the next round of funding, one expert writes. RUS awarded $1.068 billion to 68 recipients in 31 states and one U.S. territory in the first round, and details on many of the projects that received awards can be found at Connecting Rural America. Craig Settles, an Oakland, Calif., Internet consultant, writes for the Daily Yonder, "Before diving into the report, it’s important to remember that this was a process unlike any previous broadband initiative. Though the stimulus program received a lot of criticism, much good came from it that will ripple out to other communities."

RUS reports the projects it funded will bring broadband service to 529,249 households, 92,754 businesses, and 3,332 anchor institutions such as schools, libraries and hospitals across more than 172,000 square miles and will create approximately 5,000 immediate and direct jobs. The first-round awards included a heavy emphasis on wired networks, with 48 projects being fiber networks and 14 Digital Subscriber Lines, while only 23 are wireless. Settles disagrees with that emphasis, writing he believed "RUS could have gotten a bigger bang for its bucks even for last-mile projects by funding more proposals that were heavy on wireless -- such as WiMAX -- while relying on fiber mainly for select institutions."

"The decision to fund 49 non-remote last-mile networks is helpful," Settles writes. "As West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller pointed out, many communities are well within 50 miles of major metropolitan areas (the cutoff point for being considered 'remote'), but due to geographic obstacles they are as lacking in broadband as communities in remote areas are." Settles concludes that after examining the round one awards you can "be reasonably satisfied that quite a few communities should benefit from the stimulus program. It depends on whom you speak with, though, whether you think that the program will achieve as much as it could. We'll all know more late next year, when some of these projects should bear early fruit." (Read more)

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