USDA Doles Out $1.2 Billion in Broadband Grants

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded another major wave of
funding for broadband projects in rural America under the economic
stimulus bill.

The Department this week announced the dispersal of $1.2 billion for
126 distinct broadband projects, aiming to connect homes and businesses
as well as anchor institutions such as hospitals and police stations.

The latest wave of spending brings Agriculture and the Commerce
Department that much closer to doling out all of the $7.2 billion
allocated to the two departments for broadband projects under the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act enacted last February.

Of that, $2.5 billion was allocated to Agriculture, and the remaining
$4.7 billion to Commerce.

Collectively, the grants and loans, many of which entail matching
commitments by the network provider, were aimed at bringing high-speed
Internet service to parts of America where market incentives had not
been sufficient to lure private-sector firms. In that sense, the
stimulus funds were billed as a down payment on the Obama
administration’s effort to close the digital divide, and ensure that
low-income or rural Americans enjoyed the same economic opportunities
broadband facilitates in more affluent, central areas.

The stimulus funding also set aside some money for broadband mapping
projects and training and education to address the demand side of the

Writing in a post on
the White House blog
announcing the latest wave of grants,
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said
they intend to allocate all of the remaining broadband funding by the
end of September.

“We are looking forward to the two months ahead when we will be
rolling out the remainder of our awards, and we hope many of you are as
well,” Vilsack and Locke wrote. “We’re excited to be finally building
the infrastructure of the future, and to be executing the president’s
and Congress’ vision of a high-speed, high-performance America.”

Many of the projects announced this week will spur broadband
deployments in rural areas, including several projects in tribal lands.
Much of the funding targets particularly low-income areas designated as
“persistent poverty counties.”

In Oklahoma, for instance, a provider called the Cimarron Telephone
Company will deliver broadband service to a region comprised of five
counties and heavily populated by members of the Osage, Pawnee and Creek

“The delivery of broadband to these areas will promote rural economic
development, improve access to education, health care, public safety and
most importantly, provide the infrastructure needed to create the
environment for the growth of quality jobs,” Vilsack and Locke said.
“Without the Internet, business growth is stifled.”

They also laid out an approximate timetable for the dispersal of the
remaining grants and loans, including the first Commerce funding for
public safety networks.

All told, Commerce plans to award between $2.3 billion and $3.3
billion through the end of September. Agriculture anticipates awarding
its remaining $640 million.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at, the news
service of, the
network for technology professionals.

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