Leader Blues

Friday, July 17, 2009

TOP STORY >> Rural areas hope to get broadband

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

About 140 people from several states attended a day-long workshop Thursday to learn how to properly apply for a share of the $7.2 billion in stimulus money available to bring high-speed Internet to rural and other underserved populations.

David Villano, assistant administrator of the telecommunications program of the U.S. Agriculture Department, gave a broad overview to those assembled at the Dale Bumpers Training Facility in Lonoke.

He reminded them that the applications require them to fill out 50 questions and that those filling out, for instance, 49, would not be considered for the grants.

The Lonoke workshop was one of nine around the country. The others were at Albuquerque, N.M., Birmingham, Ala., Bil-lings, Mont., Charleston, S.C., Los Angeles, Boston, Memphis and Minneapolis.

State Rep. Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke), who attended the morning session, said he hoped the workshop would help the rural areas in Lonoke County get access to broadband.

Earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden announced the availability of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act loans and grants to help bring broadband service to unserved and underserved communities across the country.

It is aimed at expanding broadband access to help bridge the technological divide and create jobs building out Internet infrastructure.

Biden called the initiative “a first step toward realizing President Obama’s vision of a nationwide 21st Century communications infrastructure – one that encourages economic growth, enhances America’s global competitiveness and helps address many of America’s most pressing challenges.”

Organizers did not make registration information available, so it’s hard to know who attended locally on behalf of their communities.

The parking lot was filled to overflowing and while most vehicles had Arkansas tags, there were vehicles from Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, Texas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, California, Tennessee and Illinois.

The Recovery Act provided $7.2 billion to the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service to accelerate broadband deployment in areas of the country that have been without the high-speed infrastructure.

Of that funding, the Commerce Department will utilize $4.7 billion to deploy broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas in the United States, expand public computer-center capacity and encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service.

USDA will invest $2.5 billion to facilitate broadband deployment in rural communities.