Agriculture Dept. Doles Out $1.2 Billion for 126 Broadband Projects

By D.H. Kass

August 6, 2010

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released $1.2 billion in grants and loans, supplemented by $117 in matching private funds, directed at 126 new broadband infrastructure projects in rural and underserved areas, in a second round of funding under the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The grants and loans are part of the overall $7.2 billion designated for broadband expansion nationwide, $4.7 billion of which is allocated through the U.S. Commerce Department and $2.5 billion from the Department of Agriculture.

Last month, the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture awarded $795 million for 66 broadband projects spanning all 50 states.

In a blog post announcing the funding, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said that the remaining $3.6 billion in broadband funding will be dispensed by the end of September.

“As we’ve said before, we’re on track to get all our broadband awards out the door by the end of September.” Vilsack and Locke said.

“In fact, over the next 60 days, we will award the remaining roughly $4 billion dollars to help provide critical broadband services to states and communities across the country,” they said.

Secretaries Vilsack and Locke outlined the government’s schedule for doling out the remaining awards.

Accordingly, the Agriculture Department will award some $190 million the week of August 16 for 50 so-called “last-mile” projects while the Commerce Department will grant up to $1.6 billion for 70 infrastructure and broadband adoption plans.

The USDA plans to award an additional $450 million early in September while Commerce will grant upwards of $1.7 billion in two periods during the month.

Funding targets broadband infrastructure and adoption projects

Key targets for broadband expansion include businesses, healthcare facilities and schools in underserved communities. Funding is allocated for “middle mile” and last mile connections in areas lacking broadband access, and public computing centers such as libraries and local community colleges.

"The broadband projects announced today will give rural Americans access to the tools they need to attract new businesses, jobs, health care and educational opportunities," said Vilsack, in a statement.

"These projects will create jobs building these networks, and the completed systems will provide a platform for rural economic growth for years to come," he said.

This round of stimulus money, allocated among 38 states and Native American territory, targets a wide variety of broadband efforts and represents a wide range of funding. A notable amount of the money is aimed at low income areas and tribal lands.

For example, West Kentucky Rural Telephone Cooperative Corp. Inc. was awarded some $123.8 million to construct fiber optic communication lines to more than 21,000 homes in target areas in Kentucky and Tennessee, impacting about 41,000 people.

In Montana, Nemont Telephone Cooperative Inc. was granted $26 million to provide Fiber-to-the Premise to certain locations within the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, in particular the headquarters of the Fort Peck Assiniboine-Sioux Tribes, benefitting 7,250 people and creating more than 280 jobs, officials said.

In central Michigan, Crystal Automation Services, Inc., was award a $7.9 million loan and $18.5 million grant to deploy a hybrid fixed wireless, fiber optic network to provide high capacity broadband to health care facilities, libraries, schools and community organizations.

On a state-by-state basis, applicants in Wisconsin won 13 awards, nearly double those of Kentucky and Missouri, each with 7 award winners. Michigan and Oklahoma has six recipients each.

To qualify for funding, recipients must meet the terms of the loan, grant or loan/grant agreement.