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The Word from Washington

The Department of Agriculture has made connecting rural America a national priority, announcing on April 8, 2002 more than $2 million in awards to remote communities in Alaska, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas. Companies such as Unicom, Northeast Telecom, DeepNet Communications, Northern Telephone, Socket Holding Corporation, and Big River Telephone Company are among the grant recipients.

For people in Wawina, Minnesota, there certainly is a need when a trip of 30 miles to a public library is required in order to access the Internet. In fact, the Commerce Department indicates that only 5% of small towns with fewer than 10,000 in population have Internet access, while 65% of cities with more than 250,000 can easily get online.

Further examples of first-year awards for this pilot program include the following:

  • A $400,000 grant to Border-to-Border Communications in Kerrville, Texas—considered to be the smallest telecommunications operator in the state—will establish wireless Internet service for 130 homes and businesses for the first time.

  • $397,024 in funds have been made available for three villages near Anchorage, Alaska: Pitka's Point, Mountain Village, and St. Mary's in Wade Hampton County. The award was designed to increase employment opportunities for this remote area in the western tundra region.

Here's a quote from a statement issued by Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman: "The grants, financed through USDA Rural Development's Rural Utilities Service, will assist communities most challenged by isolation, financial resources, and technological development to help provide the tools to participate in today's global, digital economy. In addition, the project will allow rural residents to benefit from greater educational opportunities and improved health care at a lower cost."

President Bush has signaled his support of these initiatives with the recent signing of the Farm Bill that will provide $100 million in low-interest loans and loan guarantees for the private development of broadband access in rural America.

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