White House awards first broadband stimulus grants

New broadband projects, funded by the U.S. government, will open up economic and educational opportunities in rural northern Georgia and other states, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday.

Biden called the first round of broadband grants and loans, announced Thursday, a "historic investment" for people in Georgia, New York, Maine and other states receiving US$182 million in economic stimulus funding from the U.S. government. Thursday's announcement was the first of $2 billion in broadband grants and loans President Barack Obama's administration will announce over the next month and a half.

The broadband projects will enable telemedicine to come to rural hospitals, and distance learning to come to rural schools, Biden said. "This is literally going to revolutionize the way rural Georgia works, learns and grows," he said.

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue called broadband the "new dial tone" of the 21st century. "Internet access is as important to our communications infrastructure today as reliable telephone service was a century ago," he said. "Creating an advanced network will promote economic development, expand educational opportunities and improve the availability and efficiency of government services."

Over the next year, the U.S. Rural Utilities Service and the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration will award about $7.2 billion for broadband deployment projects. The money comes from the giant $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act approved by the U.S. Congress early this year.

The lack of broadband is holding back businesses such as Impulse Manufacturing in Dawsonville, Georgia, Biden said during a speech at a metal fabrication business. It's difficult for the company to provide real-time notification of project progress, conduct video chats with customers or handle large e-mail files, detailing the specifications of customer orders, without high-speed Internet, Biden said.

"This is a major problem for a small business like Impulse, putting them at a globally competitive disadvantage as they grow," he said. "Their ability to grow is stifled by being on the wrong side of the digital divide. That's no longer going to happen here in this part of Georgia."

The $182 million in awards announced Thursday, matched by $46 million in private investment, will go to projects in 17 states, the White House said.

Among those awards:

-- North Georgia Network Cooperative, a $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.

-- Biddeford Internet, a $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 the state of Maine.

-- ION Hold, a $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 Network, a $20.6 million grant with an additional $5.1 million in matching funds to add 140 miles of backbone network and 219 miles of middle-mile spurs to an existing network, enabling the delivery of at least 10 Mbps service to more than 220 existing anchor institution customers in rural and underserved areas of the state.

-- Rivada Sea Lion, a $25.3 million grant with $6.4 million of other funding, for fourth-generation mobile broadband service to more than 9,000 unserved locations in a 90,000-square-mile area in southwestern Alaska.

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