$2B in U.S. broadband stimulus funds to be distributed over the next 75 days for new network build-outs

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, speaking today in Dawsonville, Ga., said that $2 billion in grants and loans directed at broadband access buildouts will be dispersed over the next 75 days.  Biden’s initial announcement includes $182 million for 18 projects in 17 states awarded through programs administered by the departments of Commerce and Agriculture. Those projects have been matched by $46 million in private investment, the administration said.  

The grants announced today will fund both last-mile projects to connect remote homes in rural areas, and "middle-mile" infrastructure to connect communities to the Internet backbone.   This money is to be spent for new network deployments.  They will also include programs to promote broadband adoption and to fund public computing centers.  Besides Georgia, other projects in the first set will be in Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, Arizona and Alaska.

The U.S. Departments of Commerce and Agriculture will award the remainder of the $2 billion on a rolling basis over the next 75 days.  So at long last, the dispersal of the $7.2 billion in total broadband stimulus funding set aside in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act begins in earnest. The agencies overseeing the funds -NTIA and RUS- have already made modest grants to organizations in 18 states and the District of Columbia for efforts to map broadband coverage. (NTIA and RUS officials had told a panel of Senators in October that the initial awards would be delayed due to a flood of applications for grants and loans seeking a total of $28 billion.  That was more than seven times the amount that was made available in the first tranche of funding.)  

Joined by Gov. Sonny Perdue, Biden told a crowd of workers, business leaders and lawmakers that creating the networks could help smaller businesses compete globally.   "We’re forming the tools that will fashion the work of the 21st century," Biden said. "We are laying the foundation for the economy of tomorrow."  He also tied broadband to the future success of the country’s manufacturing industry and middle class.

"We were losing ground for the past 25 years in manufacturing," Biden said. "We don’t want an economy built on another bubble. We want to do what our grandparents did … and build on a solid foundation."  He also tied broadband to the future success of the country’s manufacturing industry and middle class.

"These critical broadband investments will create tens of thousands of jobs and stimulate the economy in the near term," the White House National Economic Council said in a report accompanying today’s announcement. "By providing broadband-enabled opportunities to previously underserved communities, these investments will also lay the foundation for long-term regional economic development and foster a digitally literate workforce that can compete in the new knowledge-based economy."

The administration plans to award a total of $2 billion in grants and loans on a rolling basis over the next 75 days as it starts doling out the first round of stimulus funding for broadband, which Biden said could be used to help struggling rural areas like Dawsonville with distance learning, telemedicine and real-time pricing for farmers.

The awards are targeted to accommodate four primary missions:

  • Middle Mile: $121.6 million to build and improve connections to communities lacking broadband access.
  • Last Mile: $51.4 million to connect end users like homes, hospitals and schools to the middle mile network points.
  • Public Computing: $7.3 million to expand computer center capacity for public use in libraries, community colleges and other public venues.
  • Sustainable Adoption: $2.4 million to fund innovative projects that promote broadband demand "with population groups where the technology has traditionally been under-utilized."

The Department of Agriculture also announced $53.8 million in funding for eight projects on Thursday, and the Commerce Department announced $129 million in funding for 10 projects. Those projects together also will put up another $46 million in matching dollars.

The Recovery Act requires NTIA and RUS to allocate all of the $7.2 billion by Sept. 30, 2010.

For more information:  http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iK8SjjFiVfL5Fm-aDChr9gB9_Z9gD9CLA4BG7