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Commerce, Agriculture announce broadband grants totaling $1.8 billion

The Commerce and Agriculture departments announced on Wednesday scores of stimulus grants to extend broadband infrastructure to underserved Americans as part of an effort to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas.

Grants totaling $1.8 billion for 94 projects in 37 states are aimed at job creation and technology expansion, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a conference call announcing the latest round of funding from a $7.2 billion pot for broadband projects that was included in last year's Recovery Act.

"These projects will connect Americans who have for too long been without the full economic, educational and social benefits of high-speed Internet access - access central to success in the 21st century," Locke said.

He said 36 percent of Americans are without access to high-speed Internet services. "That is simply unacceptable," Locke said. The 66 projects announced today by the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration will develop 25,000 miles of broadband networks, providing access to 19 million households and 1.8 million businesses, he said.

Vilsack said nearly half the people living in rural areas lack access to broadband services. The 28 awards provided today from Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service will extend infrastructure to 1.2 million households, he said.

Noteworthy among the funded projects are five networks for public safety services, such as a $38.7 million project in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, N.M., that will enable streaming of patient data from paramedics to hospitals and other types of data transmission.

Satellite services are being funded for the first time in four projects, including a $7.5 million award to Spacenet Inc., to provide broadband service to rural customers in Alaska and Hawaii.

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