Technology, like an athlete, is only as strong and as effective as its most glaring weakness. Or so the saying might go for the Obama administration.
Tapping the Internet as the vehicle for improving the lives of young Americans—aiding education and making the nation more competitive—the President has targeted a sizable chunk of stimulus dollars toward achieving universal broadband access.
In December, Vice President Joe Biden announced the allocation of $183 million in grants and loans for 18 different projects in 17 states. The projects, which help bring broadband to underserved, rural areas, fall into one of four categories. The “middle mile” awards are designed to build and improve connections to communities lacking sufficient broadband access. “Last mile” awards will help connect end-users at homes, hospitals and schools to their community’s broadband infrastructure. “Public computing” awards will help expand computer center capacity for public use in libraries, community colleges and other public venues. Lastly, “sustainable adoption” awards will fund innovative projects that promote broadband demand with population groups where technology has traditionally been underused.
Examples of the awards are a $33.5 million grant with an additional $8.8 million in matching funds to deploy a 260-mile regional fiber optic ring for last-mile service in the north Georgia foothills. In Minnesota, a $2.9 million grant with matching funds of $741,000 will enhance broadband awareness and use for residents in four federally designated poverty zones in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. And in Alaska, a $25.3 million grant coupled with $6.4 million of leveraged funds will spur the creation of 4G high-speed broadband Internet service availability to more than 9,000 unserved locations in a 90,000-square-mile area where inhabitants live at subsistence levels.
The $183 million is the first part of a $2 billion total allotment, out of the Recovery Act’s $7.2 billion investment in broadband expansion, for projects that specifically target underserved areas.