Feds Pumps $54.5M in Stimulus Funds into Washington State to Expand Broadband Service, Spark Economic Growth

The Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) has received an additional $54.5 million in Recovery Act funds to expand high-speed broadband Internet to underserved areas across Washington state. U.S. Secretary of Commerce and former Washington state Gov. Gary Locke announced the funding, alongside U.S. Reps. Jay Inslee and Brian Baird, at the Seattle Central Library yesterday. All three touted the project as a way to bridge the technological divide, boost economic growth, create jobs, improve educational resources and access to healthcare, and connect the rural regions of the state to the digital economy.

“This critical investment will lay the groundwork for sustainable economic growth by connecting difficult terrain both east and west of the Cascades that has been without the full economic, educational and social benefits of high-speed Internet,” Locke said.

This is the second federal grant Tacoma, WA-based NoaNet has been awarded in the last year for the State of Washington Broadband Consortium, a $185 million project to bring Internet access to 170 communities, and 2,000 schools, libraries, universities, hospitals, and emergency response agencies that lack adequate service. The first grant, for $84 million, was awarded in March.

Altogether, the $185 million will finance the construction of more than 1,300 miles of new fiber, bringing affordable broadband Internet service to 55 Washington communities labeled by NoaNet as “economically depressed.” The project will directly affect 538,559 households and 103,230 businesses throughout 25 of the state’s 39 counties. The plan will also enhance connectivity to six Native American tribal communities in Washington, including the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, the Yakama Nation, the Lower Elwha Kallam Tribe of Indians, the Suquamish Tribe, and the Port Gamble S’Kallam Tribe of Indians.

“This broadband initiative will create immediate jobs, attract economic investment to rural areas, and provide reliable, high-speed Internet,” NoaNet CEO Greg Marney said in a statement released yesterday. “Imagine a rural doctor being able to instantaneously share a patient’s test results and consult with an expert at any major medical center in the world. It’s a big deal for rural Washington.”

The NoaNet project focuses on remote areas, because they are those that most often have rudimentary capabilities. And according to Marney, greater broadband connectivity will bring  an overall enhancement to the quality of life in the areas served. Not only will these communities now have attractive economic appeal that could pull in outside businesses, but those living in even the most remote parts of the state will be able to quickly access and share critical information among fire, police, hospitals, and first responders.

“This is a game-changer for many communities,” Marney said. “It just like when electricity was finally extended to rural communities in the 1930s and 1940s. Broadband will help save lives, reduce government costs, help educate young people, and create business opportunities.”

The news came on the same day that Vice President Joe Biden announced an approximately $1.8-billion investment in new projects to create jobs and stimulate economic opportunities in 37 states across the country.

“Investment in Broadband will be a fuel for the engine of our economic recovery,” Inslee said. “NoaNet’s State of Washington Broadband Consortium is one more link in our economic chain that … Next Page »

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