WASHINGTON, June 9, 2010 –The US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) has just released a report that outlines the first round of Broadband Initiatives Program grants from the stimulus package last year.
During a conference call with the press USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack stated that more than $1 billion has been awarded to 68 projects in 31 states. In these 68 investments, broadband service was brought to approximately 530,000 residents, 93,000 businesses, and 3,300 anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries, hospitals, and other community centers.
The first round of funded grants also created 5,000 immediate jobs for those laying fiber and building network infrastructure. The report anticipates that these jobs will continue to exist, as maintenance and repairs on towers and lines will be necessary.
While a lot of the investments involved fiber networks, about 20% of the projects were wireless endeavors, and at least 30% of the projects had wireless components. Secretary Vilsack said that the projects were not about “picking the winning technology,” but about what type of connection is best for a specific community’s needs.
In regards to connection speeds, he stated that all grants meet the speed goals from the National Broadband Plan while most are faster than the minimum requirements. He also said that rural residents would not be paying high rates for broadband access. He said that a large percentage of rates come from the costs of installing broadband infrastructure in an area, and that since the grants covered those installation costs, that expense would not be passed to the consumer. By giving consumers faster broadband speeds, customer satisfaction will be higher and more people will begin to use broadband. Vilsack said that if more people are using broadband services, the cost will spread among more consumers, and the rates will remain lower.
Benefits to the rural areas of these broadband investments not only include improving communication, especially for emergency services; but also secondary uses such as Telemedicine for rural hospitals, which gives patients more options for treatments that do not involve extensive travel to bigger hospitals. Parents with children can also access educational material online without having to make arrangement for their children’s care.
Secretary Vilsack emphasized the benefits to farmers and ranchers, which includes up-to-date weather reports and commercial information to help them make the best decisions for their operations. With broadband services, farmers can also access and sell their products on an international scale.
He also stated that the report is a “very, very important report” because it shows that USDA is making a historical impact in rural areas, and he anticipates that this year will be an important one for rural communities. By increasing broadband service to these locations, he hopes to revitalize the country’s economic growth, saying “a strong rural America is a strong America.”