December 17, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
The first wave of broadband stimulus awards were announced today by Vice President Joseph Biden in Dawsonville, Ga. Biden detailed $183 million in broadband projects going to 17 states. More than $46 million in matching funds from public- and private-sector sources is already attached to the federal grants, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), one of two federal agencies charged with disbursing $7.2 billion set aside in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for broadband projects.
"New broadband access means more capacity and better reliability in rural areas and underserved urban communities around the country. Businesses will be able to improve their customer service and better compete around the world," said Biden in a statement.
The money will roll out to the recipients over the next 75 days.
Awards fell under four general categories. The most funded category was Middle Mile, which refers to a backbone infrastructure serving several counties. Broadband delivery hardware is extended by individual parties from that backbone. The second category was Last Mile, referring to the equipment extending from the middle mile infrastructure to bring broadband directly to homes, offices and other buildings. The third category was Public Computing, translating to public computer labs in libraries, community centers and similar locations. The fourth and least funded category was Sustainable Adoption, dedicated to promoting broadband subscriptions to communities typically hesitant to purchase services.
Oakland, Calif.-based municipal broadband analyst Craig Settles ventured a guess as to why the NTIA put the most of its funding toward middle mile projects.
"It looks like the NTIA is establishing parameters for a path of least resistance," Settles commented, explaining that administrating just a handful of middle mile projects -- each serving several counties -- was easier than administrating numerous last mile projects, which often serve only one county or city. Obviously both middle mile and last mile projects are needed to deliver broadband to unserved citizens. However, being in charge of the broader, middle mile portion is simpler, in Settles' view.
Georgia: North Georgia Network Cooperative Inc. -- $33.5 million grant with an additional $8.8 million in matching funds to deploy a 260-mile regional fiber-optic ring to deliver gigabit broadband speeds, reliability, affordability and abundant interconnection points for last mile service in the north Georgia foothills.
Maine: Biddeford Internet Corp. -- $25.4 million grant with an additional $6.4 million in matching funds to build a 1,100-mile open access fiber-optic network extending to the most rural and disadvantaged areas of Maine, from the Saint John Valley in the north, to the rocky coastline of downeast Maine, to the mountainous regions of western Maine.
New York: ION Hold Co. -- $39.7 million grant with an additional $9.9 million in matching funds to build 10 new segments of fiber-optic, middle mile broadband infrastructure, serving more than 70 rural communities in upstate New York and parts of Pennsylvania and Vermont.
South Dakota: South Dakota Network -- $20.6 million grant with an additional $5.1 million in matching funds to add 140 miles of backbone network