Stimulus money for high-speed Internet
President Obama earmarks $7 billion to expand high-speed Internet access across the country -- how three communities plan to use the money.
The following is a partial transcript; for full story, listen to audio.
The Obama administration says 640,000 jobs have been saved or created so far by stimulus money. About 100 of those jobs are at two federal agencies which will hire even more workers to manage a small slice of stimulus money: The $7 billion dollars that's been earmarked to improve high-speed internet access in underserved communities.
President Obama's telecom advisor says that's a fraction of what's needed. In fact, the government's been flooded by requests to spend four times that amount.
Valerie Fast Horse, information technology director for the Coeur d'Alene Indian tribe in Idaho, is asking for $12 million to help the tribe's internet service provider connect the 3,700 homes on the huge, largely rural reservation.
"We are planning on building a fiber-optic network on the reservation," said Fast Horse. "So fiber to the homes -- everyone will have a direct, very dedicated line to their house that's not susceptible to interference."
Fast Horse says phone companies and cable companies are limited in their reach and their business models don't support providing service on the reservation.
The primary goal for getting high-speed Internet to the reservation, says Fast Horse, is to preserve the language, culture and the history of the tribe.
"We have a language that is very ancient; we have a handful of speakers left. And so what we're hoping is that we can create feature-rich content to help promote the language -- like a word of the day or videos, or maybe even online classes and instruction."
Fast Horse adds that high-speed Internet will help tribal members access community college courses from home, and access health care information and services online.
Wally Bowen, executive director of the non-profit Mountain Area Information Network, is asking for $2.5 million to extend wireless access in parts of Appalachia. He'd like to spend the money on getting the rural areas off dial-up, improving service in low-income neighborhoods, and providing broadband to support a state park scientific research project.
"In the Ashveille area, we want to extend this WiFi cloud over the city," said Bowen. "Basically we are distributing a WiFi node block-by-block and house-by-house. It's like lily pads on a pond -- you get these giant Wifi hotspots covering the city, all overlapping."
Similar to the situation at the Coeur d'Alene reservation, Bowen says telephone and cable companies just don't operate in highly rural areas like his.
"Folks who don't live in rural areas just don't understand what a crisis it is. You just can't get high-speed internet through the cable or the phone companies. And you're lucky to get a good land-line for dial-up. The cable companies and the phone companies -- the big carriers -- their business models do not work in these areas. So they're going to go and deploy their networks where they'll get the greatest rate of return."
John Bunce is national logistics manager for Clearwire, a telecom company. He wants to use $19 million in seed money to bring high-speed access to low-income neighborhoods in Detroit. He says that although his business is a for-profit businesss, investors aren't investing because they're not seeing enough potential for returns in certain parts of the country.
"We look at all the cities in America. We rank them in terms of financial attractiveness. When our marketing people look at different cities, Detroit -- particularly the inner-city Detroit -- the returns are less attractive than they are in other metropolitan areas."
At one time in the not so distant past, Internet access was considered a luxury option for many. Bunce says that's no longer the case.
"The change in the population's use of the Internet is just so dramatic that ... if lower-income people don't have access to the Internet, they're at a disadvantage. So many jobs now are just posted on the Internet, and if you can't have access to job sites, you just don't have the same opportunities. It applies so much in education -- if you can't Google something, it's hard to do research in a short period of time."
"This is infrastructure in the classic sense of making us one community and building bridges and making us successful to each other."
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