$103M to expand broadband Internet in rural US

Telecommunications companies in 16 states will share more than $103 million in federal funding to help expand broadband Internet access to those areas of rural America that haven't been reached by the high-speed service or are underserved, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday.

Policymakers, public interest groups and are seeking to bridge the digital divide by reaching even the most remote pockets of the U.S. with internet, hoping to improve economic and educational opportunities there.

"There's a big gap that remains between rural and urban areas because it's just hard to make a business case in ," said Jonathan Adelstein, the agriculture department's rural utilities service administrator, in a conference call with reporters. "Rural areas' future depends upon access to broadband and we're not where we need to be today."

The states that will benefit from the funding are: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

As many as one in 10 Americans can't get Internet connections fast enough to engage in such common online activities as watching video or teleconferencing, and two thirds of schools have broadband connections that are too slow to meet their needs, the Commerce Department reported earlier this year.

Last year, the released a national broadband plan that set a goal of hooking up 100 million U.S. households to of 100 per second by 2020. That's at least 20 times faster than many existing home connections.

About 28 percent of rural America, or nearly 19 million people, lack access to Internet with speeds of three megabits per second or faster, compared with only 3 percent, or 7.2 million people, in non-rural areas, according to an FCC report titled "Bringing Broadband to Rural America."

Adelstein said rural areas lag behind the urban areas of the country when it comes to broadband Internet access because the more remote areas don't have enough people, have rugged terrain, or it's too costly for companies to serve them.

One of the grants announced Monday will help provide Internet services to about 570 members of the Karuk Native American Tribe in a mountainous region of Orleans, in northern California.

"It is a remarkably remote place. It's one of the darkest places from space in the lower 48" states, said Craig Tucker, a spokesman for the tribe.

Tucker said lack of reliable Internet services is a "limiting factor for economic development" for the tribe and the non-Native community that lives in the area as well.

"There's not really good cell phone service, or Internet service. Even electricity is a struggle/ A lot of people are off the grid entirely," he said.

Another grant will help rebuild the broadband infrastructure in Tushka, Okla., which was hit by a tornado in April that killed two people and destroyed or damaged numerous buildings in the community.

Adlestein said there's still a "long way to go" in terms of bringing rural America in line with the rest of the country, and he added that one of the challenges is that young people won't stay in communities without broadband Internet access.

"There's not a future there for them," he said. "Not only do they expect it, but they need it ... if young people want to stay rural areas where they grew up."

The majority of the funding comes in the form of infrastructure loans of totaling about $90 million for five broadband projects. These projects join others across the countries that are sharing $192 million in loans announced by the Agriculture Department in late July.

About $13 million of the funding is through the USDA's Community Connect program, which provides grants to rural, economically challenged communities. The funds can be used to build, buy or lease facilities to bring broadband access to community facilities such as schools and government offices, as well as residents and businesses.

The USDA funding is just one of several federal, state and local programs working to expand Internet access to rural parts of the country.

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User comments

Aug 22, 2011
I wish I could get 103M of federal money to start or expand a business.

Guess this is just our government doing what it does best: Rob from the average or poor and give to the rich.

Aug 22, 2011
Nano, I think you got that wrong. Taking tax dollars would be stealing from the people, to give to the less fortunate. Rich people make widespread broadband internet possible. And the government does a good job of letting us Google anything we want, as opposed to living in an oppresive society. 100 million divided by 16 states is an average of $6 million per state. Doesn't sound like a whole lot to me. I would save your complaining and express a little humility considering you can access this website and share your opinion freely.

Aug 22, 2011
Honestly Racchole you both are a little off-base, it's easy to see why with AT&T lying through their teeth about the merger with TMobile... rural? Right.... 95% of TMobile is innercity so how again will merging add rural? The troubling thing about this is who in this fine story mentioned Fixed Wireless that is already in most of these places? Remember the President's $7B gift to broadband? Yup almost NONE of it went to rural Internet, the requirements to hand over ownership to the federal government for 10 YEARS was too bitter of a pill plus the 30% overhead for auditing, ridiculous. Who will get this money, the same people who get all the money, the telephone companies who will use the government funds to drive out competition such as Fixed Wireless. Take that 100 million and hand it to the FCC to provide more licensed-lite frequencies for Fixed Wireless to expand further into rural areas, problem solved! No stupid overhead audits at 30%, no government ownership of small biz.

Aug 22, 2011
Oh goody, we as a nation are massively in debt and only getting worse, but hey, it's crucial to be certain that rural areas have broadband!! This is how Obama has managed to add $4 Trillion in debt in only 2 1/2 years, and is on track to add more debt in well less than half the time it took Bush.

Kids aren't going to stay in rural areas because they can get broadband v. dial-up, nor is it going to make any sigificant difference in jobs or economic aspects. Rationalizations like this are a good part of what got us into the current financial situation.

It would be one thing if we as a nation were doing exceptionally well - but when we are on the edge of yet more recession, and over 9% unemployment? Give us a break!!!

Aug 23, 2011
This is how Obama has managed to add $4 Trillion in debt in only 2 1/2 years, and is on track to add more debt in well less than half the time it took Bush.

I'm waiting, because I know it will happen, for the day when teawingers start blaming Obama for the Plague...

Kids aren't going to stay in rural areas because they can get broadband v. dial-up, nor is it going to make any sigificant difference in jobs or economic aspects.

heh, maybe so, but it worked for me. I live in a tiny rural town in southern europe (>5k), nonetheless I work on networks and deal with colleagues and customers from every continent on the planet on a daily basis. How? DSL, VoIP and GSM.

Aug 23, 2011
That said, do I think the USA needs GigE in every farmhouse throughout the country for the sole purpose of having bored redneck teenagers post comments on PhysOrg? Probably not, but there are a bunch of telecommunication companies that would love it, and those companies finance a lot of lobbyist in Washington to convince your Congressman that you need it.
That's just Business As Usual

Aug 25, 2011
@Guy Underbridge - "heh, maybe so, but it worked for me" - yes, which is exactly why I included the word "significant" in my statement rather than saying it would make no diff. :0)

Aug 25, 2011
Kids aren't going to stay in rural areas because they can get broadband v. dial-up, nor is it going to make any sigificant difference in jobs or economic aspects.

Care to back that up? Have you ever lived in rural America? How many people would love to tele-commute from their rural home, but can't do it because it would require satellite internet? Here's 1, right here! And internet access /certainly/ holds back rural small business. POS systems still use dial-up or sat, which costs the small business more money for the internet service per Mbps AND the credit companies charge them more per transaction (not 100% on that).

This is good for small business AND to bridge the knowledge gap which helps polarize the politics in the US. Knowledge via video is very powerful, and the longer the poor rural can't get it, the bigger the gap. I just wish Colorado was on that list, cuz I'm still stuck with Sat ISP.

Aug 25, 2011

Yes, I have lived in rural America in several very different locations around the USA too.

You can't telecommunte at will, you have to work for a company that will allow it and many (most) won't. That's the big limitation, not where you happen to live. Almost everyone would love to telecommute, rural, surburban, or urban. What's really ironic is you say Sat ISP would be necessary - but you already have it.

Support your claim that a significant number of rural businesses are held back because of lack of internet. Areas are RURAL because they don't have much population, and that's why they don't have broadband, and why there aren't that many businesses affected.

Knowledge gap? Give me a break. How ever were we educated, did we learn anything before the internet, let alone broadband existed? Show me student test scores that have increased significantly since broadband video became available. Show me stats on how rural poor are worse than urban poor re education. Sheesh.

Aug 26, 2011
Answering questions with more questions.... I don't have time for this....

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