Recovery Act brings broadband – and jobs – to rural communities

Comparing the development of high-speed Internet as part of the president’s economic recovery act to electrification projects under the New Deal, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Aug. 4 more than $1.3 billion in funding for more than 120 broadband projects in rural communities across the country.

Since the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, federal authorities have allocated about $2.6 billion to fund more than 230 broadband projects in 45 states.

The goal of these projects is to provide high-speed Internet service for private home use as well as to help local businesses, hospitals, libraries, schools, government entities, public safety facilities and community organizations gain access to broadband services.

“The broadband projects announced today will give rural Americans access to the tools they need to attract new businesses, jobs, health care and educational opportunities,” Vilsack said. “These projects will create jobs building these networks, and the completed systems will provide a platform for rural economic growth for years to come.”

According to data provided by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the funds for the latest broadband projects will go to 38 states. For example, Clear Lake Independent Telephone won an award of close to $8 million to provide high-speed Internet to more than 2,000 previously unserved homes and businesses in Iowa. The Leslie County Telephone Company in Kentucky will use its $6.1 million grant to provide DSL to 3,500 homes, 35 businesses and 35 community organizations, creating at least 100 jobs along the way.

On a larger scale, the West Kentucky Rural Telephone Cooperative Corporation Inc., which covers parts of Tennessee as well, will put its $123.8 million award toward creating 160 jobs in order to provide high-speed Internet service to more than 21,000 homes in 11 counties, 3,500 businesses and 100 community institutions.

In Florida, the Windstream Corporation will use almost $50 million in government grants and loans to provide rural communities, comprising some 120,000 people and 4,750 businesses and 150 community institutions, with access to high-speed Internet services. The company estimated its projects would create 225 new jobs.

Crystal Automation will use its $26 million grants and loans to lay fiber optic cable to provide Internet services to 140,000 people in central Michigan’s rural communities. In addition, an estimate 5,000 businesses and 700 community organizations will be serviced, creating 150 jobs upfront.

A $64 million award to Montana Opticom, LLC, will create 650 jobs upfront in order to lay fiber optic cable to service some 18,500 people, 4,100 local businesses and 58 community organizations in Gallatin County, Montana. Among the community organizations are libraries, health care facilities and schools.

More than 13,000 households and 1,200 businesses in Chelan and Okanogan Counties, in Washington state, will see new broadband service as part of separate awards totaling about $35 million award to the publicly owned Public Utility District 1. Dozens of community institutions stand to benefit along with new jobs created.

An almost $22 million award will provide new high-speed Internet service to 8,500 people in rural Wilkes County, North Carolina.

From California to New York, Minnesota to Texas, Mississippi to North Dakota, millions of Americans and tens of thousands of businesses and community institutions will have new access to high-speed Internet services as a result of these projects. The USDA estimates that tens of thousands of new jobs will be created as well.

USDA Rural Utilities Service Administrator Jonathan Adelstein said these projects are a good start to making broadband access available everywhere in the country. “It’s a down payment, not a balloon payment,” he said. “It clearly makes a difference, but there is still far more work to be done to make broadband available in all corners of the country.” He noted that the program creates new jobs and helps bring the U.S. into comparative advantage with other countries that have wider broadband coverage.

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Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of The Collectivity of Life: Spaces of Social Mobility and the Individualism Myth, and a former editor of Political Affairs.