Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Broadband News

USDA’s Rural Utilities Service and Commerce’s NTIA released a joint Request for Information (RFI) seeking public comments on the Broadband Initiative Program and the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. This is the second joint RFI issued by both agencies since the enactment of ARRA. The comments received will help the agencies gather information and help develop the second round of funding and must be received by November 30th.

In additional efforts to fund broadband, USDA has selected 22 projects in ten states to receive $13.4 million in broadband Community Connect grant funds. The grant program provides financial assistance to furnish broadband service in unserved, often isolated, rural communities. The grants are used to help critical facilities such as fire or police stations, while also serving the community. The project must also provide for a community center where community residents can obtain free broadband service for the first two years.

The grants will fund $564,000 to go to the Yurok Tribe located on a reservation along the northwest coast of California to provide for wireless broadband services to the reservation. A community center will be refurbished with free internet access to tribal residents. In addition to the Yurok Tribe, the Round Valley Indian Tribes of the Round Valley Indian Reservation in California also received $474,886 in funding.

The “Community Connect” program awarded Nexus Systems, Inc. with a $924,308 grant to provide wireless broadband services to Enterprise, Louisiana where the volunteer fire department and the community center will receive free broadband service for two years. Nexus Systems will also provide the community with web-based services such as web hosting and video conferencing services for public meetings.

Other states receiving “Community Connect” grants include Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia.

The “Community Connect” program is also helping in Alaska. In 2006, the Alaska Power & Telephone Company received a $1,031,133 grant to establish a wireless broadband system in the Native community of Kasaan. In order to provide service to this remote Southeast Alaska community, the construction of an antenna system on a mountaintop was required and constructed.

The grant also provided laptop computers and video conferencing services to the community center where a server was installed so local residents could store personal files. The wireless service has improved connectivity and attracted a number of cellular telephone companies that came to the area to install infrastructure resulting in enabling residents to be able to use more dependable mobile telephone services.

With other USDA Rural Development funding, Bassett Healthcare in Cooperstown N.Y. now uses digital mammography via a broadband network to connect Cooperstown with three remote sites to a mobile mammography unit. Digital breast screening images are relayed instantly through the network, enabling oncology experts to consult with patients and other healthcare providers in real time.

This program started in 2006, when USDA awarded Bassett Healthcare a $500,000 telemedicine grant to help purchase the digital mammography equipment at four sites and helped them purchase a 40 foot long mobile mammography unit and build the broadband network. The mobile unit has greatly improved access to mammography screening for women living in Bassett’s rural 8,000 square mile service area.

In state activities, Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky, has recently announced the launch of the “Coal to Broadband: Making the Transition, Making the Connection” program to bring broadband service to Breathitt, Estill, Lee, and Powell counties in the state. These counties are the bottom 25 counties in Kentucky to have broadband available. Both Breathitt and Lee counties are the two lowest served counties in the state, with both counties having below 50 percent availability of broadband to the home. Nearly 7,000 homes in the four counties do not have high speed internet available in the home.

The “Coal to Broadband” program will use multi county coal severance dollars along with Appalachian Regional Commission funds to bring broadband to the Eastern Kentucky regions.