More than $7 billion in Recovery Act funds is aimed at helping achieve a longstanding goal of the federal government: making high-speed Internet service, known as broadband, available to millions of Americans who either cannot afford it or do not have access to it. The money will underwrite nearly 300 broadband projects across the country.
As economic activities around the world are increasingly conducted over the Internet, federal officials and U.S. economic experts have continuously cited widespread availability of broadband as critical to sustaining American global competitiveness. Yet, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC):
- Nearly 100 million Americans lack broadband at home; 14 million of them cannot get it even if they want it
- Only 42 percent of disabled Americans have broadband at home
- Barely 5 percent of the Native American tribal areas have broadband access.
A provision in the Recovery Act directed the FCC to develop a national broadband plan to “ensure that all people of the United States have access to broadband capability.” The FCC recently unveiled an overall broadband strategy (www.broadband.gov) recommending that the federal government:
- Collect, analyze, and publish detailed, market-by-market information on broadband pricing and competition
- Develop a list of points and practices that broadband service providers must disclose to consumers and regulators
- Undertake a comprehensive review of federal rules regarding broadband market competition
- Facilitate construction of infrastructure.
The Act also made $7.2 billion in Recovery funds available to the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) for individual broadband projects. NTIA and RUS are to award funds based on proposals from businesses and state/local governments. Both agencies had already been working to increase broadband availability, but the Recovery funds are allowing significant new opportunities.
- NTIA, which received $4.7 billion, developed the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to support grants and loans for projects that:
- Document and map existing broadband
- Increase broadband use in underserved areas
- Provide broadband training and support to schools, libraries, healthcare providers, and other organizations
- Improve broadband access to local police and fire departments
- RUS, which received the remaining $2.5 billion, developed the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) to fund grants and loans exclusively for broadband in rural and remote areas.
The first round of grants and loans were announced last December, a mix of 18 BTOP and BIP projects in 17 states. Both NTIA and RUS continued to award funds for projects, and to date, NTIA has awarded all $4.7 billion for 223 projects spanning all states, four territories, and the District of Columbia. RUS has announced all $2.5 billion for 70 projects in extremely remote areas – some not even connected by roads – affecting more than 500,000 people in 31 states, one territory and 17 tribal lands.
West Virginia and Pennsylvania, two states with vast areas not served or underserved by broadband, have so far received the highest individual award totals – $126 million and $100 million respectively.
- Projects in West Virginia include adding 2,400 miles of fiber-optic networks that will “directly connect more than 1,000 institutions, including public safety agencies, public libraries, schools, government offices, and other critical community facilities,” a state official says. As a result, every K–12 school in the state is expected to have high-speed Internet; 700,000 households, 110,000 businesses, and approximately 800 law enforcement offices and fire departments are slated to benefit as well.
Complete list of projects in West Virginia.
- Projects in Pennsylvania are focused on constructing an almost 1,700-mile fiber-optic network connecting 60 community institutions – public and private universities, K–12 schools, public libraries, public broadcasting facilities, and medical facilities – in 39 counties across the southern and central regions of the state. More than 2 million households and 200,000 businesses are also expected to benefit.
Complete list of projects in Pennsylvania
For more information on the Recovery Act’s broadband initiative:
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