U.S. to announce $795 million in new broadband subsidies

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

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture'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.

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.

Broadband deployments made possible by the new awards will help farmers to better track crop prices, enable rural health centers to offer telemedicine services, and allow schools to provide distance learning programs, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "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 the RUS for broadband grants and loans. The NTIA will award $404 million to 29 projects on 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.

The new awards include the following:

  • 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 nationwide high-capacity network that will support 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, W.Va., to serve more than 14,000 people, 200 business and 100 community institutions.
  • Wilkes Telephone & Electric: $48.1 million in grants and loans will help build a fiber network in Georgia's Lincoln, Taliaferro and Wilkes counties. 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. You can follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. His e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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