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USDA and the Commerce Department Supporting Broadband Access and Economic Opportunity Across America through the Recovery Act

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke report on how their agencies are undertaking new projects in the coming weeks to help improve the nation's broadband infrastructure.

When Congress passed and the President signed the Recovery Act, they made a $7.2 billion commitment to improving this country’s broadband infrastructure.  They understood broadband will be an essential piece of a successful 21st century economy.  But it can only be so if we deploy networks that offer all Americans quality service, while also teaching the skills to use broadband and encouraging its use to promote our national priorities, including education, health care, energy, and public safety.

Together, we’re excited to be moving quickly to make these goals a reality. Today, the Department of Agriculture is awarding roughly $1.2 billion for 126 projects across the country to connect homes, businesses, and critical community institutions like hospitals and police stations, that don't currently have adequate access. 

Many tribal areas, and areas designated as "persistent poverty counties" will be served.  For example, Cimarron Telephone Company in Oklahoma will provide broadband service to parts of five counties and to members of the Osage, Pawnee and Creek tribes.  Another firm, Atlink, will provide service to 14 central Oklahoma persistent poverty communities that currently have no access to the internet at any speed. 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. Without the Internet, business growth is stifled.

As we’ve said before, we’re on track to get all our broadband awards out the door by the end of September.  Today’s awards put us one step closer.  In fact, over the next 60 days, we will award the remaining roughly $4 billion dollars to help provide critical broadband services to states and communities across the country.  To be as transparent as we can in this effort, below is a calendar outlining what you can expect from our programs in the next 60 days.

Agency Expected Approx # of Projects Expected Approx. Dollar Amount Description
 Week of August 16      
 USDA  50  $190 million These awards will support a series of last-mile projects.
Commerce  70  $1.3-$1.6 billion These awards will support public computing, broadband adoption, community infrastructure, and some public safety projects.
 Week of Sept. 6      
 USDA  65  $450 million These awards will support a series of last-mile projects, as well as satellite and technical assistance projects.
 Commerce  50  $600-$900 million These awards will support public computing, broadband adoption, community infrastructure, and some public safety projects.
Week of Sept. 27      
 Commerce  15  $300-$600 million  These awards will primarily support public safety projects, but may also include a handful of community infrastructure, public computing, and broadband adoption projects.
 Commerce    $100-$200 million These awards will support broadband mapping efforts.

This calendar doesn’t convey the true power of every dollar we spend—many of the projects leverage outside capital, too.  For example, while the Recovery Act allocated $2.5 billion to USDA for broadband, that should support more than $3.5 billion in activity.
While we’re excited about all of our awards and the opportunities they represent for people, businesses, and communities, we’re particularly excited about some of the awards that will come in the next two months. The Department of Commerce, for example, will announce more than half of their remaining awards the week of August 16.  As with previous awards, these projects will include infrastructure projects, the creation up of public computing centers, as well as the setting up of programs that train people on the skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s economy—and, increasingly, today’s.  But they will likely also include the first of the public safety projects to be granted—supporting mobile broadband networks that will finally give our first responders the access they need to real-time information and reliable communications at the scene of an emergency.  Similar awards will continue through the end of September.  In fact, the majority of the final awards from the Commerce Department will go to public safety.
USDA plans to award funding to continue to improve educational and job opportunities for residents of rural America.  There are fewer people in rural America with college degrees and more people who have no high school diploma. The combination of that means that we have to continue focusing on how we improve education in rural America to build job growth, which in turn allows folks to stay on the farm. Broadband is a key component in that effort.

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.  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.

Tom Vilsack is Secretary of Agriculture
Gary Locke is Secretary of Commerce