President Obama earmarks $7 billion to expand high-speed Internet access across the country — how three communities plan to use the money (Public Radio International, for full story, listen to audio at PRI.org)
The Obama administration says 640,000 jobs have been saved or created so far by stimulus money (Read also All There is to Know About RUS and NTIA). About 100 of those jobs are at two federal agencies which will hire even more workers to manage a small slice of stimulus money: The $7 billion dollars that’s been earmarked to improve high-speed internet access in underserved communities.
President Obama’s telecom advisor says that’s a fraction of what’s needed. In fact, the government’s been flooded by requests to spend four times that amount.
Valerie Fast Horse, information technology director for the Coeur d’Alene Indian tribe in Idaho, is asking for $12 million to help the tribe’s internet service provider connect the 3,700 homes on the huge, largely rural reservation. Fast Horse says phone companies and cable companies are limited in their reach and their business models don’t support providing service on the reservation. Fast Horse adds that high-speed Internet will help tribal members access community college courses from home, and access health care information and services online.
Wally Bowen, executive director of the non-profit Mountain Area Information Network, is asking for $2.5 million to extend wireless access in parts of Appalachia. He’d like to spend the money on getting the rural areas off dial-up, improving service in low-income neighborhoods, and providing broadband to support a state park scientific research project. Bowen says telephone and cable companies just don’t operate in highly rural areas like his.
“Folks who don’t live in rural areas just don’t understand what a crisis it is. You just can’t get high-speed internet through the cable or the phone companies. And you’re lucky to get a good land-line for dial-up. The cable companies and the phone companies — the big carriers — their business models do not work in these areas. So they’re going to go and deploy their networks where they’ll get the greatest rate of return.”
John Bunce is national logistics manager for Clearwire, a telecom company. He wants to use $19 million in seed money to bring high-speed access to low-income neighborhoods in Detroit. He says that although his business is a for-profit businesss, investors aren’t investing because they’re not seeing enough potential for returns in certain parts of the country.
“The change in the population’s use of the Internet is just so dramatic that … if lower-income people don’t have access to the Internet, they’re at a disadvantage. So many jobs now are just posted on the Internet, and if you can’t have access to job sites, you just don’t have the same opportunities. It applies so much in education — if you can’t Google something, it’s hard to do research in a short period of time.”