Over 250 attended the Broadband Workshop on Ground Hog Day (Feb. 2, 2010) in Eureka, Missouri to learn more about two key American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) broadband programs as part of President Obama’s job creation agenda. The workshop was the fifth of ten public workshops open to the public sponsored by the USDA Rural Development Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and Dept. of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
The excitement over this broadband initiative was evident in the discussions, networking and partnerships that took place during the day. We had excellent feedback about the outstanding training that was provided by the national office staff on the application process and many questions were answered. The concept and benefits of regionalization in providing these services was emphasized and we left the meeting with a positive, optimistic attitude that we would see good results from the presentations and USDA, Rural Development programs.
We appreciated the presence of Jessica Zufolo, Deputy Administrator for Utilities who inspired the audience with the following comment: “It’s hard for businesses to locate or thrive in areas that do not have access to broadband, and that’s why the Obama Administration believes that providing new broadband infrastructure is one of the most important ways to create jobs and rebuild and revitalize rural America. Broadband infrastructure projects lay the foundation for job creation and economic growth. Broadband makes commerce possible, and it also opens the way for improved access to health care, educational opportunities for children and adults, along with greater access to information in public venues including libraries.”
We heard positive comments about the USDA’s partnership with the Department of Commerce on this initiative. “By funding projects to increase broadband access and digital literacy in communities across the country, we can help more Americans compete in the 21st century economy and improve our country’s global competitiveness,” said Angela Simpson, NTIA Senior Advisor on Broadband, at the workshop.
U. S. Senator Claire McCaskill was represented by Llona Weiss, Regional Director, and Bob Burns, Field Representative. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon was represented by Robert Donnelly with the Department of Economic Development. Many other stakeholders including: organizations, commissions, local/regional/state government, infrastructure providers, universities, libraries, community groups, nonprofits, and etc. were in attendance to learn about the programs, how to apply, learn about the scoring and learn what is required.
A highlight of the opening session was a presentation by Dan Strode, Manager of Ralls County Electric Cooperative. The member-owned, non-profit cooperative was one of the recipient’s in the $310 million ARRA Rural Broadband Projects announced by Secretary Vilsack on Jan. 25, 2010. They received a $9,548,908 grant and $9,548,909 loan to help fund a fiber optic network to 4,594 households, 311 businesses and 58 anchor institutions, public safety entities, and critical community organizations in rural northeast Missouri. This is also a Missouri demonstration project with leveraged funds provided by Governor Nixon and the State of Missouri. Mr. Strode pointed out that the fiber optic network along their electric distribution right-of-way will bring advanced broadband services to unserved and undeserved residents. The fiber network will enable “Smart Grid” technologies, to revitalize local economic development and create sustainable jobs for their members and communities. Stobe pointed out the Coop would dedicate 10% of free cash flow from broadband operations for local economic development loans and grants to further job retention and creation.
This provided an excellent example of a successful applicant/recipient utilizing the ARRA funds to support sustainable investments in broadband to create jobs, spur long-term economic growth, and ensure rural communities can compete in the 21st century.
As my final comment, I would add that I commend the national office for the “lessons learned” from the Round 1 of the Notice of Funding Availability and making positive changes for improvement for the second round. Individuals attending were complimentary and appreciative that their comments had been heard and adjustments made.
For information on more workshops, archived webcasts, visit http://www.broadbandusa.gov. Additional forums will be held over the next two weeks at the following locations: February 4, Sioux Falls, SD; February 5, Detroit, MI; February 9, Blacksburg, VA; February 11, Fayetteville, NC; and February 12, Atlanta, GA.
Submitted by Janie Dunning, Missouri State Director for Rural Development and by George Thomas, Public Information Coordinator
Angela Simpson, NTIA Senior Advisor on Broadband, Jessica Zufolo, Deputy Administrator, Utilities, USDA Rural Development, Janie Dunning, Missouri Rural Development State Director
Bob Burns, Field Representative of U. S. Senator Claire McCaskill, participating in the comment period.