Telecom Companies To Expand Broadband in Rural US

Telecommunications companies in 16 states have laid out plans to share more than $103 million in federal funding to help expand broadband internet access to rural areas of the country that haven't yet been reached by high-speed service or are underserved.

The announcement comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is providing about $13 million of the project's funds through its Community Connect program. The program exists to provide grants to rural, economically-challenged communities to be used for purchase, construction or leasing of facilities to bring broadband access to the chosen areas. The states that will benefit from the funding are: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The program is part of an overall plan by the FCC that has set a goal of hooking up 100 million U.S. households to broadband connections of 100Mbps by the year 2020. The reason for this push is that about 28 percent of rural America, or nearly 19 million people, lack access to internet with speeds of 3Mbps or faster, compared with only 3 percent, or 7.2 million, in non-rural areas. At a time when internet access is considered a utility by many, a large portion of the country is stuck with no broadband access, which means that growth is extremely limited and that younger community members often leave for areas with better access.

Above: a map of the concentrations of broadband internet access in the United States.
Note that much of the western half of the country has no broadband, particularly
outside of urban centers.

For many telecommunications companies, these rural areas don't have enough people, have too rugged terrain, or are too costly to service. For example, one of the first grants that has been announced will provide service to about 570 members of the Karuk Native American Tribe in the remote mountainous region of Orleans, in northern California. According to Craig Tucker, a spokseman for the tribe, a lack of reliable internet services is a "limiting factor for economic development" for bot the tribe and the non-Native community that lives in the area.

"There's not really good cell phone service, or internet service. Even electricity is a struggle," said Tucker. "A lot of people are off the grid entirely."

A second grant aims to help rebuild the broadband infrastructure in Tushka, Oklahoma, which was hit by a tornado in April that killed two people and destroyed or damaged numerous buildings.

The majority of the funding for the project comes from infrastructure loans totaling about $90 million for five broadband projects, which are joined by other federal, state and local internet access projects across the country that are sharing $192 million in loans.
Tags:  Broadband, FCC, USDA