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Satellite, Public Safety Projects Win Broadband Awards

Four satellite-based broadband providers and emergency responders were among the winners in a new list of broadband grants and loans announced by two U.S. agencies Wednesday.

The awards, part of the economic stimulus package the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, include more than US$307 million in grants to nine projects involving public safety networks and $100 million to four satellite broadband providers to cover remote areas.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced awards totaling $1.8 billion to 94 projects Wednesday. The projects cover parts of 37 states.

"These investments are bringing broadband to underserved communities and creating jobs today," said Jared Bernstein, chief economist to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. "Just as important, they create opportunities for tomorrow, whether it's a kid in a library who will have the same access to the Web as a kid in wealthy suburbia, or job seeker in a community center, or a physician researching a diagnosis."

Wednesday marked the first time that satellite providers received awards from the ARRA broadband programs. The satellite providers can help reach U.S. residents who live in areas that may be too expensive to serve in other ways, said Jonathan Adelstein, administrator at the RUS.

The public safety grants will help the U.S. move ahead with long-standing efforts to create a nationwide wireless broadband network for public safety agencies, Bernstein said. "These awards ... will finally give first responders the tools they need to improve response times, communicate at the scene of emergencies and have reliable access to real-time data," he said during a press conference.

The public safety projects will serve as demonstrations of the viability of a larger public safety network, he said.

One of the public-safety grants went to Motorola, to help pay for a wireless broadband network in the San Francisco area. The project, which received $50.6 million from the NTIA, plans to serve 200 public safety sites in the area. The company will match the grant with $21.9 million in private funding.

The state of Mississippi received $70.1 million from the NTIA to build a statewide wireless broadband network for public safety agencies, including police and fire departments. The project plans to serve 9,900 public safety users, including 90 hospitals and 340 ambulance services.

The New Jersey Department of Treasury received a $39.6 million grant to deploy a wireless broadband network for public safety agencies across the northern part of the state. The project plans to serve 51 agencies and about 30,000 users.

The New Mexico Department of Information Technology received a $38.7 million grant to build a wireless broadband network for public safety agencies in the Albuquerque and Santa Fe areas. The project plans to serve about 1,500 users, and the state will add $17 million of its own money to the project.

Satellite broadband providers receiving grants and loans from the RUS included Hughes Network Systems, which received $58.8 million to provide broadband to hard-to-reach areas nationwide.

Wildblue Communications received $19.5 million to serve parts of the West and Midwest with satellite broadband, and Echostar received $14.2 million to serve parts of the East and Midwest. The RUS awarded SpaceNet $7.5 million to cover parts of Alaska and Hawaii.

Other major awards went to the University of Arkansas System, which received $102.1 million to build a middle-mile broadband network throughout the state. The California Broadband Cooperative received an $81.1 million grant to build a middle-mile network in parts of California and Nevada.

Windstream, a broadband provider based in Little Rock, Arkansas, received $63.2 million in awards for four projects in Kentucky, Georgia and New York. The company will match the money from the RUS with $21.2 million in private funds.

U.S. President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion ARRA in February 2009. The bill included $7.2 billion for broadband deployment and related programs, although the U.S. Congress cut about $302 million from the NTIA's broadband programs in a bill designed to save teaching jobs passed earlier this month.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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