January 28, 2010 By Andy Opsahl
Broadband stimulus grants and loans equaling more than $309 million were recently awarded for private-sector networks in rural areas by the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), one of two federal agencies distributing $7.2 billion set aside in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for broadband projects. The total RUS share of the money was $2.5 billion. Some of the recent RUS awards went to middle-mile networks, but most of the 14 grants went to last-mile projects, the primary stimulus focus of the RUS. Middle-mile networks will be the main target of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the other federal agency distributing broadband stimulus money.
While the RUS continued the track record of both agencies of giving all last-mile and middle-mile grants to private companies, the RUS insisted governments would be served.
"The awards for these broadband projects will support anchor institutions -- such as libraries, public buildings and community centers -- that are necessary for the viability of rural communities," said Tom Vilsack, secretary of agriculture in a statement.
For example, in Burleigh County, N.D., the BEK Communications Cooperative won a $2 million grant and $2 million loan, which it will combine with $2 million in matching funds. The company will expand its existing system to offer fiber-to-the-premises service to more than 540 homes and anchor institutions that are currently underserved. The existing system provides service to 53 percent of the population in the area, and among the current users, 22 percent generate household income from the Internet, according to the RUS. The BEK expects to stimulate economic growth by bringing on new users.
Below is a complete list of recent Recovery Act Broadband award recipients by state:
Southwestern Alaska: United Utilities, $44 million grant and $44.2 million loan. The funding will provide middle-mile connectivity to 65 communities.
Butler: Butler Telephone Co. Inc., $3.9 million grant. The funding will provide high-speed DSL broadband service to remote, unserved households within its rural service territory. The system is being built so that it can be easily upgraded to accommodate future services.
San Joaquin, Tranquility and Fresno: Audeamus, $2.7 million grant and $2.7 million loan. The proposed project is a fiber-based broadband infrastructure for the unserved and underserved communities in this service area. A last-mile project, it will provide access to approximately 1,500 households, local businesses and anchor institutions in the communities.
Meriden and Archer: C-M-L Telephone Cooperative Association, $1.5 million grant and $1.5 million loan, $1.5 million in matching funds. Funding will provide services via a fiber-optic network to rural communities with high speed internet exceeding 20 Mbps.
Bennett, Delmar and Lowden: F & B Communications Inc., $1.6 million grant and
$1.6 million loan. Funding will provide services via high speed fiber-optic network with speeds exceeding 20 Mbps. System will allow for expansion at a future date.
Springbrook: LaMotte Telephone Co., $187,815 grant, and $187,815 loan. The funding will provide services from a 300-foot tower and Wi-MAX installation for wireless broadband service in the surrounding area.
Western Kansas: Rural Telephone Service Co. Inc., $49.6 million grant and $51.6 million loan. Funding will provide service in an area 99.5 percent unserved/underserved and provide a rural infrastructure required for economic stability, education and health care. The company is a cooperative and RUS partner on 32 other projects. It leads a team of seven companies with this shovel-ready project.
Northern Tennessee: North Central Telephone Cooperative Inc., $24.7 million grant and $25 million loan. The funding will provide the necessary infrastructure to provide advanced voice, video and data services that exceed 20 Mbps to remote and rural communities in the