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Commerce issues last of Net stimulus grants

By Cecilia Kang
Tuesday, September 28, 2010; A19

The Commerce Department on Monday announced the last of its more than $4 billion in stimulus grants for the expansion of broadband Internet lines. The program, as part of the Recovery Act, was designed to jump-start the economy and provide the underlying technology needed for new businesses and economic growth.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced a final round of 14 grants totaling $207 million. The department, along with the Department of Agriculture, was given more than $7 billion to distribute to rural and other broadband projects.

The Commerce Department awarded a total of 233 projects in every state. Many of those projects are so-called "middle-mile" fiber-optic loops that can connect several towns in a region to backbone networks.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has issued awards aimed at connecting 24,000 community schools, libraries, government offices, health-care facilities and public safety entities to high-speed networks.

Critics of broadband stimulus funds and other Recovery Act projects have questioned the immediate benefits of those awards and whether companies will be able to continue operations of their projects after the government subsidies are spent.

In a news release, NTIA, the White House's technology policy arm, said the benefits may not be immediate and noted that the federal government has created a timeline for the projects.

"These anticipated benefits will be realized over the life of each project, which must be substantially complete within two years and fully complete within three years," the NTIA said.

Craig Settles, a telecommunications consultant, said the expectations of immediate jobs growth were "unrealistic" and "unfortunate."

"The real benefits come from the businesses that arise from these tech investments," Settles said.

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