On May 7th, USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) issued funding notice (RDRUS-CC-2012) for their FY 2012 Community Connect Grant program. The program serves rural communities where broadband service is least likely to be available but where it can make a tremendous difference in the quality of life.
Funds may be used to build broadband infrastructure and establish a community center to offer free public access to broadband for two years. The estimated total program funding is $10,372,000 with an award ceiling of $1,500,000 and award floor of $100,000. Grant applications are due June 18, 2012.
Applicants eligible to apply include state, county, city or township, Native American tribal governments, nonprofits, for profits, and small businesses.
Webinars will be held on May 14th and May 24th to discuss the program. To preregister for one of the webinars, contact Nicole Payne or Carla Johnson at (202) 720-2281 or 202-720-0667 or by email Carla.Johnson2@wdc.usda.gov. Go to http://www.grants.gov/ for more information on the funding notice.
The grant funding has impacted lives in one rural area for the residents living in the Olympic Peninsula in Mason County Washington surrounding Hood Canal. This rural community until the last few years had no access to high speed internet. Topographically unique, the area is surrounded by bodies of water, dense forests, and steep terrain posing construction challenges.
The community is also home to the Squaxin and Skokomish Tribes but recently population and industry growth has created even more need for improved broadband infrastructure. Economic development primarily stems from forestry but the area has been severely impacted by the current economic downturn.
Through the years since 1978, the local phone company called Hood Canal Communications received loans and Community Connect grants from RUS and worked to improve communication services in the area.
In 2010, Hood Canal Communications received a loan of $904,000 and a grant for $2.7 million under ARRA’s Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) to expand services to the Squaxin Tribal Community and several other areas in rural Mason County.
As a result of their partnership with Hood, the Squaxin Tribe has been able to eliminate all costly T-1 lines, replace multiple phone systems with a single integrated system, and offer seamless phone service between all tribal offices, businesses, and recreational facilities.
A state of the art video communications center was created for the Squaxin Tribe enabling the tribal community to become more competitive in the global marketplace. The computer center provides an online GED study program as well as several adult educational opportunities including computer training.
Tribal law enforcement connects with Mason County public offices and law enforcement agencies for file sharing and to access fingerprint databases. Also, the Tribe’s medical office now connects to both the medical library and the hospital information system in Portland Oregon.
For more details on the grant program, go to www.rurdev.usda.gov/utp_connconnect.html.