Taxpayer Dollars Bringing Broadband Internet to Remote Corners of U.S.A.

By Patrick Burke | October 19, 2012 | 11:20am EDT

The Native village of Tatitlek, in Alaska's Prince William Sound, has broadband service through USDA Community Connect program. (Photo from USDA website)

( - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is spending more than half-a-million taxpayer dollars to bring broadband Internet service to the 481 mostly indigenous people of St. Paul, Alaska – a community located 300 miles off the mainland.

“Without broadband, rural communities and business owners face a substantial challenge,” said Dallas Tonsager, Agricultural Undersecretary for Rural Development, in announcing the $554,140 grant. “In Alaska, this grant will bring the benefits of broadband, including new educational, business and public health and safety opportunities to rural residents living in a remote area.”

The taxpayer funds will go directly to Tanadgusix Corporation, the company that will build the broadband network.

The grant is administered through the “Community Connect” program, which is run by USDA’s Rural Development agency.

Community Connect provides grants to poor, rural communities with populations under 20,000 “where broadband service is least likely to be available, but where it can make a tremendous difference in the quality of life for citizens,” according to the program’s description.

Funds can be used to construct, acquire or lease facilities to deploy broadband to schools and public safety buildings as well as homes and businesses.

There are strings attached: Each project requires a matching contribution and must serve an area where broadband is not available. And the grantee must agree to provide a local community center with at least 10 computers, which will be free to residents for two years.

During fiscal year 2011, the Community Connect program distributed nearly $13.5 million in grants to install broadband in rural communities across the United States.

The Obama administration has set a goal of providing broadband access to 10 million Americans who are on the wrong side of the so-called digital divide. “In the long term, these unparalleled rural investments will help ensure that America’s rural communities are repopulating, self-sustaining and thriving economically,” the USDA says.

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