Thursday, June 24, 2010

USA - Analysis of the Rural projects for broadband - USD 1.068 billion awarded to 68 recipients in 31 States

[daily yonder] In phase one of the Rural Utilities Service's funding for improved Internet service, last-mile projects, co-ops and private companies came out on top.

The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) last week released a detailed report of its Round 1 broadband stimulus awards -- all 68 of them. It’s a good read, particularly for the advice communities still planning broadband projects can glean from descriptions of proposals that RUS has funded so far.

Connecting Rural America summarized the allocations in Round 1 and some of the expected benefits. RUS awarded $1.068 billion to 68 recipients in 31 States and one U.S. Territory. This report also provides details on many of the projects that received awards.

Before diving into the report, it’s important to remember that this was a process unlike any previous broadband initiative. Though the stimulus program received a lot of criticism, much good came from it that will ripple out to other communities.

RUS contends that the projects it funded will bring broadband service to 529,249 households, 92,754 businesses, and 3,332 anchor institutions such as schools, libraries and hospitals across more than 172,000 square miles. These broadband programs should create approximately 5,000 immediate and direct jobs. The summaries of award winners list additional expected benefits.

The report confirms what everyone following individual award announcements suspected, which is the heavy emphasis on wired networks: 48 projects are fiber networks and 14 are DSL, while only 23 are wireless. Because the report doesn’t show the awards for hybrid wired-and-wireless networks, it’s hard to say how many grantees are deploying them. However, I got the sense from some applicants’ comments during Round 1 that there should have been more hybrids funded. I concur.

While fiber is generally accepted as the most future-proof broadband technology, I don’t believe it is the best solution for all communities for reasons such as cost, terrain, distance between residential customers and so forth. I feel RUS could have gotten a bigger bang for its bucks even for last-mile projects by funding more proposals that were heavy on wireless -- such as WiMAX -- while relying on fiber mainly for select institutions.

Whose Broadband Did RUS 'Stimulate'?

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