WASHINGTON - The Obama administration on Wednesday pumped $46.6 million into a plan to boost high-speed Internet access throughout the Central Valley.
The money will help extend fiber optic and wireless broadband service from Yuba City to Bakersfield and through the Sierra Nevada mountains. It could especially help rural areas catch up to other communities already served by efficient onramps to the information superhighway.
"Investing in our broadband infrastructure is an investment in the future of our region," Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, declared in a release.
A consortium of independent telephone companies called the Central Valley Independent Network will use the funds for a 1,371-mile fiber optic network. This will provide high-speed service through 18 California counties, going as far north as Colusa County and as far south as Kern County.
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The money also will help pay for 12 new wireless nodes to serve remote parts of Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern counties. Three hundred and fifty existing cell phone towers in the region will be boosted so they, too, can provide high-speed wireless access.Quantcast
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was scheduled to roll out the San Joaquin Valley grant Wednesday with full political fanfare, in a telephone news conference accompanied by Costa and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced.
Costa beat the commerce secretary to the punch with an early press release.
Cardoza and Costa both supported the $787 billion economic stimulus package in February 2009 from which the broadband grant program gets its money. All told, the Obama administration is distributing some $7.2 billion in broadband grants.
Congressional Republicans, including all of the San Joaquin Valley's GOP House members, opposed the overall stimulus package as wasteful and unlikely to add lasting jobs.
Democrats, though, have been able to tout local stimulus grants on a regular basis for more than a year. The Agriculture Department and the Commerce Department began handing out the broadband grants in late 2009.
The San Joaquin Valley broadband grant is one of the biggest of its kind to date for California.
"It is critical that the Valley has the best available technology at its fingertips and is not overlooked in the global economy," Cardoza said.
Broadband definitions vary, but the term generally means a lot more information can be carried at once. While old-fashioned dial-up modems might convey 56,000 bits of data per second, broadband might convey 4 million bits or more of data per second.
Lawmakers specified that the grants target areas that are "unserved" or "underserved" by existing broadband Internet access. Communities can qualify for the grants in several ways. For instance, if fewer than 40% of households currently have broadband subscriptions, they are considered underserved.
Forty nine percent of Central Valley households cannot currently access high-speed Internet service, according to a 2009 survey by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California.
"Despite double-digit gains in Internet use and access to broadband since 2008, some groups still remain much more likely than others to report use of information technology," the California public policy group noted earlier this month.
The new federal grant funds will also help connect University of California and California State University campuses, as well as the region's community colleges. All told, the project is expected to take 30 months to complete.
Matching contributions of $20 million will augment the federal grant.
The Obama administration announced seven other broadband grants Wednesday, including another one to train Hispanic residents in the rural Central Valley.
Other California projects previously funded by the broadband grants have ranged from the installation of public computers in San Bernardino County to a "digital literacy training" program that included an $800,000 sub-grant for the Fresno-based Radio Bilingue.$46m fed program to boost Valley broadband access
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