By JOELLE TESSLER
AP Technology Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration on Thursday will hand out the first $182 million of a $7.2 billion pot of stimulus money that will go toward building high-speed Internet networks and encouraging more Americans to use them.
In a speech in Dawsonville, Ga., Vice President Joe Biden will announce the first 18 projects that will receive federal funding to bring high-speed Internet connections to rural areas, poor neighborhoods and other underserved communities across the country.
The administration plans to award a total of $2 billion in grants and loans on a rolling basis over the next 75 days as it starts doling out the first round of stimulus funding for broadband.
The Department of Agriculture will announce $53.8 million in funding for eight projects on Thursday, and the Commerce Department will announce $129 million in funding for 10 projects. Those projects together also will put up another $46 million in matching dollars.
The money is being targeted for “last-mile” connections that link homes, businesses and other end users to the Internet; “middle-mile” connections that link communities to the Internet backbone; computing centers in libraries, colleges and other public facilities; and adoption programs that teach people how to use the Internet and encourage them to sign up for broadband services.
The awards to be announced Thursday include:
— A $33.5 million grant to the North Georgia Network Cooperative for a fiber-optic ring that will bring high-speed Internet connections to the northern Georgia foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The project will serve an eight-county area with a population of 334,000.
— A $25.4 million grant to the Biddleford Internet Corp., a partnership between the University of Maine and service providers, to build three fiber-optic rings across rural Maine. The network will pass through more than 100 communities with 110,000 households and will connect 10 University of Maine campuses.
— A combined grant/loan of $2.4 million to the Consolidated Electric Cooperative in north central Ohio to build a 166-mile fiber network that will be used, among other things, to connect 16 electrical substations to support a smart grid project.
Other projects receiving funds include a 4G wireless network to be built by an Alaska Native Corporation in southwestern Alaska, a fiber-to-the-home project in a remote corner of New Hampshire and computer centers for 84 libraries in Arizona.
Congress included $7.2 billion for broadband projects in the stimulus bill to create jobs and bring new economic opportunities to parts of the country left behind in today’s digital age. That includes $4.7 billion to be awarded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an arm of the Commerce Department, and $2.5 billion to be awarded by the Rural Utilities Service, part of the Agriculture Department.
Demand for the broadband money has been intense — far outstripping the amount of federal dollars available. The Commerce and Agriculture Departments received nearly 2,200 applications submitted by local governments, inner-city community groups, rural cooperatives, non-profits and for-profit corporations in every corner of the country.
They asked for a total of $28 billion to pay for fiber-optic lines, wireless clouds, computer labs, Internet training programs, municipal communications networks and a range of other projects to bridge the so-called digital divide.