Broadband Stimulus Funds Flowing to States
By Paul Czarnecki, NASTD Technology Analyst
States are starting to see an influx of investment in broadband from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The Obama administration on Dec. 17 announced $183 million in the first round of stimulus funds would go to 18 broadband projects in 17 states. Of the initial awards, $121.6 million went to middle mile projects, those connections to communities lacking sufficient broadband access; $51.4 million to last mile projects, those projects to connect end users, such as homes, hospitals and schools to the community’s broadband infrastructure; $7.3 million to public computing projects, those that expand computer capacity for public use in libraries, community colleges and other public venues; and $2.4 million to sustainable adoption projects, innovative projects that promote broadband demand with population groups where the technology has traditionally been underutilized.
The majority of the funding went to private telecommunications corporations and public-private partnerships, but the awards will have an impact on state governments.
The South Dakota Network LLC, for instance, received $20.6 million to accompany $5.1 million in matching funds from the private sector to help build out the network backbone and middle mile broadband infrastructure, according to a White House press release. That effort will eventually deliver 10 Mbps (megabits per second, a measure of bandwidth) service to more than 220 existing institution customers in rural and underserved areas of the state, according to the release.
According to Jim Edman, chief information security officer for the state of South Dakota, more than 90 percent of those institutions in line to receive the Internet services are state government or K–12 entities.
“South Dakota’s award will ultimately lead to (South Dakota Network) providing ethernet services at many government offices and K–12 schools. Both of those groups are anchor tenants on our enterprise network,” said Edman. In Georgia, the $33 million awarded to the North Georgia Network Cooperative is a partnership and collaborative effort among the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, local government, county entities and Georgia state government, according to Richard Calhoun, broadband program director for the Georgia Technology Authority. The state will provide technical assistance for the project.
“Georgia has significant experience in technology program oversight with seven networks deployed since 2007 through the governor’s Wireless Communities Georgia and One Georgia BRIDGE (Broadband Rural Initiative to Develop Georgia’s Economy) grant programs,” said Calhoun.
Some states decided not to apply for broadband stimulus funds directly, preferring to let the private sector compete for funding in anticipation that the resulting economic benefits would trickle down to state infrastructure. This first round of stimulus funding indicates that might be a successful strategy, according to the National Association of State Technology Directors, an affiliate organization of The Council of State Governments. NASTD is tracking the broadband stimulus funding.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service are administering the broadband stimulus funds. The $183 million is less than 3 percent of the available $7.2 billion allocated for broadband projects. Under the terms of the Recovery Act, all broadband stimulus funds must be awarded by Sept. 30, 2010.