US agency awards $255 million in new broadband funds

The RUS has now awarded nearly $900 million in broadband grants and loans

The U.S. Rural Utilities Service (RUS) on Thursday announced US$254.6 million in funding for 22 broadband deployment projects in 18 states across the U.S. as it works to wrap up a first round of broadband funding made available in a huge economic stimulus package passed by Congress early last year.

The RUS has now awarded more than $895 million of about $2.5 billion it has available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. On Tuesday, RUS and the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced they were extending the deadline to apply for a second round of funding from March 15 to later in the month.

The RUS announcement came on the same day that agency administrator Jonathan Adelstein testified at a House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the broadband stimulus. Adelstein and NTIA administrator Larry Strickling faced questions from several lawmakers about how their two agencies were spending the money, with critics saying the two agencies were funding projects that compete with existing broadband providers.

The new broadband projects will help rural areas attract new businesses, educational opportunities and jobs, said Tom Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the parent agency of the RUS.

"The Obama Administration understands that bringing broadband to rural America is an economic gateway for people, business owners, and key institutions -- such as libraries, hospitals, public safety buildings and community centers," Vilsack said in a statement. Broadband is important for rural communities to remain strong in the 21st Century."

The RUS money will be matched by $13.1 million from private investment, the RUS said in a press release.

Among the projects:

-- The agency selected Totah Communications to receive a $4.8 million loan and a $3.6 million grant to provide broadband service in rural areas of northeastern Oklahoma and southeastern Kansas, the RUS said. The areas currently have no broadband service, the agency said.

-- In Idaho, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's Coeur d'Alene Reservation Fiber-to-the-Home Project received a $6.1 million loan and a $6.1 million grant to provide broadband to community facilities and about 3,800 unserved and underserved households on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation.

-- Southwest Michigan Communications received a $4.2 million grant and a $4.2 million loan to provide broadband services to residents in the rural Paw Paw, Michigan, area.

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