The Obama administration on Thursday handed out the first $182 million of a $7.2 billion pot of stimulus money that will go toward building high-speed Internet networks and encouraging more Americans to use them.
In a speech in Dawsonville, Ga., Vice President Joe Biden announced the first 18 projects that will receive federal funding to bring high-speed Internet connections to rural areas, poor neighborhoods and other underserved communities across the country.
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.
The Department of Agriculture is announcing $53.8 million in funding for eight projects on Thursday, and the Commerce Department is announcing $129 million in funding for 10 projects. Those projects together also will put up another $46 million in matching dollars.
The money is being targeted for "last-mile" connections that link homes, businesses and other end users to the Internet; "middle-mile" connections that link communities to the Internet backbone; computing centers in libraries, colleges and other public facilities; and adoption programs that teach people how to use the Internet and encourage them to sign up for broadband services.
The awards announced Thursday include:
A $33.5 million grant to the North Georgia Network Cooperative for a fiber-optic ring that will bring high-speed Internet connections to the northern Georgia foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The project will serve an eight-county area with a population of 334,000.
A $25.4 million grant to the Biddleford Internet Corp., a partnership between the University of Maine and service providers, to build three fiber-optic rings across rural Maine. The network will pass through more than 100 communities with 110,000 households and will connect 10 University of Maine campuses.
A combined grant/loan of $2.4 million to the Consolidated Electric Cooperative in north central Ohio to build a 166-mile fiber network that will be used, among other things, to connect 16 electrical substations to support a smart grid project.
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.
Congress included $7.2 billion for broadband projects in the stimulus bill to create jobs and bring new economic opportunities to parts of the country left behind in today's digital age. That includes $4.7 billion to be awarded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an arm of the Commerce Deparment, and $2.5 billion to be awarded by the Rural Utilities Service, part of the Agriculture Department.
Demand for the broadband money has been intense, far outstripping the amount of federal dollars available. The Commerce and Agriculture Departments received nearly 2,200 applications submitted by local governments, inner-city community groups, rural cooperatives, non-profits and for-profit corporations in every corner of the country. They asked for a total of $28 billion to pay for fiber-optic lines, wireless clouds, computer labs, Internet training programs, municipal communications networks and a range of other projects to bridge the so-called digital divide.