“These grants are not only critical for businesses and residents, they also help first responders, educators and health care professionals by providing them with access to broadband service,” Vilsack said. “Ensuring that all Americans have access to reliable broadband is a key part of the Administration’s effort to help create jobs and expand economic opportunities in rural areas.”
Eligible applicants include businesses, non-profits, cooperatives, local governments and federal recognized Tribes that will build or extend broadband infrastructure into un-served rural and economically challenged areas. More than $10 million is available for grants to be made nationwide this year. Awardees are also required to establish community centers that offer free public access to broadband.
In Tennessee for example, Pinnacle Ventures was awarded a Community Connect grant of $246,448 to provide broadband services to unserved parts of Lauderdale County. Working with the Nakipoo Rescue Squad and local USDA Rural Development staff the project exceeded initial goals by a wide margin with subscription rates that reached 77 percent above initial projections based on industry standards.
In addition to providing service to homes, schools and businesses, the rescue service is now able to access internet based real-time weather radar, state and county Emergency Operations Center reporting and status tools, ability to utilize computer-aided dispatch orders, ability to file reports online, and online training for rescue squad members. Before this project the rescue squad had to rely on telephone and fax service for updates and coordination during an emergency. The remarkable demand sparked by the Community Connect program helped Pinnacle Ventures justify the expansion of service across Lauderdale County.
Information on available funding and application requirements are published on page 26,241 of the May 3, 2012 Federal Register. More information on Community Connect Grants, including the application guide, can be viewed from the USDA Rural Development website.
Deadline for applications is June 18, 2012. For assistance with Community Connect applications in Tennessee, contact USDA Telecommunications Programs Coordinator Terry Kokinda at firstname.lastname@example.org, 615-451-9498. Online Webinars for applicants are scheduled for May 14 and May 24, 2012. Webinar details will be posted online www.rurdev.usda..gov/utp_commconnect.html
USDA Rural Development invests in jobs, infrastructure, community development, homeownership and affordable rental housing to improve the economic health of rural communities. During the last three years the agency has assisted at least 1.5 million Tennessee families and businesses in 158 communities, investing more than $2.5 Billion through affordable loans, loan guarantees and grants. www.rurdev.usda.gov/TN.