Sunday, March 6, 2011

Connecting Rural Communities

USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) announced March 4th in the Federal Register, $25 million is anticipated to be available for the “Community Connect Grant Program” for FY 2011. The program serves basically unserved areas and rural areas that have the greatest need for broadband services such as in extremely rural, lower-income communities.

To illustrate the success of the funding, a few years ago, Zimco a family-owned corporation founded the company Air Advantage, to offer a broadband solution to rural and underserved regions in Michigan. Progress began when the USDA Rural Development awarded two Community Connect Grants to Air Advantage to help the Michigan communities of Port Hope and Unionville.

The grants provided funding for a wireless infrastructure and community center with 10 computers. In time in addition to the grants, Zimco took advantage of the USDA Rural Development’s Broadband Loan Program.

In 2010, Air Advantage was selected for a Rural Development Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) award under ARRA and received a $32.3 million loan and a $31.9 million grant. These funds are being used to extend broadband services to last mile consumers in 13 counties that make up Michigan’s Great Lakes Bay Region and Thumb area.

The result is that Air Advantage now delivers broadband services to 4,943 customers in its 3,500 square mile service area using 350 miles of wireless network backbone. The 65 towers transmit to many households in the region, 21 hospitals and medical facilities, 18 school districts, 7 police stations, 4 fire facilities 4 ambulance services, and 59 government office locations throughout 75 municipalities

For organizations, Indian tribes state or local governments, and for-profit or not-for-profit organizations to apply for Community Connect Grants, the proposed project must serve a rural area without broadband, provide basic broadband service free of charge for 2 years to all Critical Community facilities, be able to offer basic broadband to all residential and business customers within the proposed service area, and provide a Community Center with at least 10 computer access points.

The applications for the Community Connect Grants must be received by May 3, 2011 for FY 2011 grant funding. Go to for more details, for application guides, and materials. For questions, contact Kenneth, Director, Broadband Division, RUS, at (202) 690-4673.