By Gautham Nagesh - 07/02/10 03:17 PM EDT
President Barack Obama announced 66 Recovery Act projects Friday aimed at expanding broadband Internet access and public computing centers in underserved communities at a cost of $795 million.
The projects vary widely in their size, scope and focus, from a $45 million grant to expand broadband access in western Massachusetts to a $1.8 million grant to the Montana State Library to provide faster Internet at its 42 local libraries. Speaking at Andrews Air Force Base on Friday morning, Obama said he expects the projects to create 5,000 construction and installation jobs in the short term and benefit millions of Americans in the future.
"Broadband can remove geographic barriers between patients and their doctors. It can connect our kids to the digital skills and 21st century education required for the jobs of the future. And it can prepare America to run on clean energy by helping us upgrade to a smarter, stronger, more secure electrical grid," Obama said.
"And once we emerge from the immediate crisis, the long-term economic gains to communities that have been left behind in the digital age will be immeasurable."
The projects are part of the $7.2 billion set aside in the Recovery Act for expanding broadband access. Of that, $4.7 billion will be distributed by the Commerce Department in the form of grants and loans, while the Department of Agriculture was slated to hand out $2.5 billion.
Including Friday's announcement, $2.7 billion has been awarded thus far. Earlier this week the House Appropriations Committee proposed rescinding $602 million in broadband funding to offset the costs of the Defense supplemental spending bill.
During a conference call with reporters Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said his agency used a points system to consider grant applications that takes into account the cost, potential benefit and technical feasibility of proposed projects.
"Many of these projects are shovel-ready, but over time will also help farmers and ranchers have real-time information on weather and commodity markets to help them make better decisions," Vilsack said.
Vilsack said the grants give rural residents more opportunities for education and economic development through tools like distance learning, online courses and telemedicine.