August 5, 2010

Here's $65 million; you're getting broadband!

Both Wisconsin senators jumped on their computers yesterday to email us the good news: Wisconsin has received -- of course, through their efforts! -- $65,214,896 to bring a vital service to the boonies.

Yes, 30,480 rural (i.e., not Racine) Wisconsin households will now have access to broadband, thanks to  funding approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the stimulus.  The funding will create "hundreds of jobs upfront," says Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI.

Think about it: broadband!  Not electricity, indoor plumbing, clean water -- broadband. At a cost of  $2,139 per household, we're moving 30,480 households off dial-up! Can cable TV be far behind?

I hesitate to research what the total cost of this technological revolution is across the country. If Wisconsin is just one of ten states getting such funding, we're spending $650 million! I'm petrified to do the 50-state math. Actually, the Dept. of Agriculture's May 11 press release says "USDA is making available up to $105 million in funding including $100 million for Satellite Projects; $3 million for Technical Assistance Projects; and $2 million for Rural Library Broadband Projects." So I'm not sure where Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI,  and Feingold are getting their information that $65 million is coming to Wisconsin, but they undoubtedly have inside information.

The USDA release Feingold's announcement referenced said applications are necessary, with a June 7 cut-off date -- and it also said we've already spent $1.067 billion through the Recovery Act for 68 broadband projects. "Together, the projects will make high speed Internet available to an estimated 529,000 households and 96,000 rural business and public facilities across 31 states, one territory and 17 tribal lands and predominantly Alaska Native regions. Many of the areas to be served are extremely remote, sparsely populated and in some cases not connected by roads." (This information came from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, last seen in the press stumbling out of the Shirley Sherrod firing mess.)

No doubt, I'm dead wrong in feeling this spending is excessive, typing as I am on my taken-for-granted, five-year-old DSL connection that I surely hope didn't cost other taxpayers $2,000 to provide.

In his press release, Sen. Kohl said: "This substantial investment will expand the broadband network to places that are currently underserved, linking people to resources that have been out of reach.  This is a path to growth for our businesses, health care providers and schools who can tap into the limitless potential of technology to strengthen their work, create jobs and energize their local economies.”

Sen. Feingold said: “The investment ... has the potential to create future employment opportunities in areas that, until now, were on the wrong side of the digital divide.  With an enhanced ability to access the Internet, rural businesses will be on a much better footing to compete in the 21st century marketplace.  This is another great example of the stimulus not only creating jobs in the near term, but helping economic development and job creation over the long term.”

 The projects, ranging in value from  a mere $818,687 to $31,098,184,  are:
  • Badger Telecom, LLC - $4,080,773
  • Baldwin Telecom, Inc. - $9,067,898
  • Central State Telephone Company, LLC - $3,855,976
  • Chequamegon Commuincations Cooperative, Inc. - $31,098,184
  • Eastcoast Telecom of Wisconsin, LLC - $1,669,255
  • Farmers Telephone Company, LLC - $1,440,570
  • Grantland Telecom, LLC - $1,655,504
  • Midway Telephone Company - $4,680,738
  • Riverside Telecom, LLC - $818,687
  • Scandinavia Telephone company, LLC - $1,238,809
  • Southeast Telephone Co. of Wisconsin, LLC - $947,555
  • Stockbridge & Sherwood Telephone Company, LLC - $1,837,421
  • UTELCO, LLC - $2,823,546

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