How $190 Million Will Expand Rural Broadband

Federal grants and loans will go to 19 states to support more than two dozen telecommunications projects.

Virginia, North Dakota and Louisiana are among the states set to receive large grants as part of $190.5 million in funding from the federal government to enhance broadband and communications infrastructure in rural communities.

North Dakota is slated to receive $4.5 million worth of Community Connect Grants from the Agriculture Department, the most given to any state. The state's funding will be split between BEK Communications Cooperative to create a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network that will provide broadband service in northeast Morton County and southeast Oliver County and Daktel Communication, which will develop a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network for broadband service in rural Stutsman County.

The $190.5 million will be disbursed through both Community Connect ($13.7 million) and Public Television Digital Transition ($2.4 million) grants as well as through Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans ($174.4 million). The money will fund 25 projects in 19 states and in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Funding is contingent on recipients meeting the terms of the agreement. Below is a brief description from USDA on the purpose of each grant and loan.

Community Connect Grants establish broadband service in rural areas to boost economic growth and offer educational, health care, social and public safety benefits. Public Television [Digital Transition] Grants help public television stations serving rural areas acquire the equipment they need to transition from analog to digital broadcasts. Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans help maintain, upgrade or expand rural telecommunications networks.

"Modern telecommunications and broadband access is now as essential to the businesses and residents of rural America as electricity was in the 1930s," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release. "USDA is committed to ensuring that rural Americans have robust broadband and telecommunications systems. The investments we are announcing today will provide broadband in areas that lack it, help rural-serving public television stations begin using digital broadcasts, and support other telecommunications infrastructure improvements."

States Rank Broadband Expansion a Top Priority

Strengthening wireless connectivity statewide and implementing broadband technology opportunities is a top priority for state CIOs in 2015, according to the results of a recent survey by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. Broadband and wireless investments ranked fourth on a list of the respondents’ top 10 priorities. Networking capabilities, such as voice and data as well as unified communications were cited as priority technologies and applications by CIOs.

One issue of contention for several municipalities is overcoming the legal barriers to offering their own broadband services to constituents. A recent Gigaom article explores the debate over whether cities should have the right to set their own Internet polices. Gigaom points out:

The calls for faster broadband are hardly controversial, since everyone wants faster internet. Instead, the issue is what tools cities can use to get it — and whether municipal broadband is a way to disrupt incumbents’ monopolies, or if it represents an over-expansion of government.

Nov 03 2014