I received a letter today from Jonathan Adelstein, administrator of the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, in response to my story about Montana Opticom’s stimulus award. The RUS is the funding agency behind Opticom’s $64 million stimulus award.
I post the letter here in its entirety:
Dear Mr. Becker:
I would like to respond to your article (Money well spent? – Aug.14, 2010) because I think it misses the point about the incredible opportunity we have to use Recovery Act funds to support private businesses in expanding access to broadband internet.
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, there have been 280 broadband awards announced so far for a total $3.3 billion investment. Much of this funding has gone to sparsely populated, remote areas that would otherwise be deprived of the educational, health care, business and public safety access that only broadband can offer. We are continuing to announce awards that will serve as many Americans in rural areas as possible.
Jobs are an important factor as we decide which applications to fund in Montana and across the country. The Gallatin Gateway Broadband Project which was mentioned in your article will create 60 direct jobs and, as importantly, will bring significant benefit to the residents, business owners and public institutions in the 153 square miles of Montana it will cover. Eventually, the number of jobs that will be created or saved in the service area is estimated at more than 600. Broadband will be made available to 7,700 households, 58 critical community facilities and over 4,100 businesses.
The application from Gallatin Gateway was reviewed thoroughly before a final funding decision was made. In addition to the service area, the most important element we consider is the benefit it will bring to the residents and businesses in that area.
To clarify comments in the article about the September 30, 2010 Congressional deadline for providing funding under the Recovery Act, we (USDA) are not, as suggested, “… in too much of a hurry to spend its remaining stimulus funds.” Quite to the contrary, we are on our planned path for making all awards. When the program began over 18 months ago, we held meetings across the country to ensure that all members of the public and all interested potential applicants would be fully involved in the process. We received a substantial amount of input and comment and incorporated it into our decision making process.
Montana businesses will find it nearly impossible to compete in the global marketplace without access to broadband. Communities without broadband will suffer. The Obama Administration is committed to providing Montana residents and all rural Americans with the economic development opportunities that are being provided in other parts of our nation.
Administrator for Rural Utilities Programs
USDA Rural Development