One of the early goals outlined by the Obama administration was to make high-speed Internet access a basic privilege of living within U.S. borders. Though the likes of Clearwire, Verizon, and AT&T have the bigger markets covered with their scheduled WiMax and LTE rollouts, those in the nation’s less-populated areas aren’t exactly on the high priority list for that caliber of broadband access.
In an effort to bridge the schism between big city broadband and lagging rural service, more than $500 million in broadband stimulus grants have been awarded to 40 companies by the the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A hefty chunk of the Rural Utility Service Fund’s second round of grants, the money will focus on the buildup of speedy networks in areas that are still stuck in the stone age of dial-up.
The operation will see the deployment of WiMax networks across 22 states from Washington to Mississippi. Two of the bigger ISPs to get government checks for their heartland-helping efforts are Washington state’s EcliptixNet Broadband and Virginia’s DigitalBridge Communications. The former will tackle the task of constructing a WiMax network for 46,000 households in rural Washington, whereas the latter will take on the challenge of spreading similar services across the expanses of Idaho, Mississippi and Indiana and covering around 76,000 rural residents. Those numbers may seem like small potatoes when compared to the national population, but bear in mind that is only the work of two of the forty grant recipients.
Just because these buildouts are subsidized by government grants doesn’t mean rural customers will be receiving their service for free. Bill Wallace of DigitalBridge estimates that his company’s service will cost $30/month for the home WiMax service, and an additional $15 for customers to use a USB device to take it with them.
Regardless of the cost, the fact that wireless broadband is ready to expand to the hard-to-reach regions in between the shining seas, is good news for the buildup of our national infrastructure. It may not turn Internet access into one of our inalienable rights, but it goes a long way towards helping Americans chase life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness online.