RICHMOND, Va. — Telecommunications companies in 16 states, including Kentucky, will share more than $103 million in federal funding to help expand broadband Internet access to areas of rural America that haven't been reached by the high-speed service or are underserved, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday.
Policymakers, public interest groups and telecom companies are seeking to bridge the digital divide by reaching even the most remote pockets of the United States with broadband Internet, hoping to improve economic and educational opportunities there.
"There's a big gap that remains between rural and urban areas because it's just hard to make a business case in rural areas," said Jonathan Adelstein, the agriculture department's rural utilities service administrator, in a conference call with reporters. "Rural areas' future depends upon access to broadband, and we're not where we need to be today."
The states that will benefit from the funding are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
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In Kentucky, Crystal Broadband Networks will receive $1.16 million for projects in Heidelberg and Yellow Rock in Lee County, and Inter Mountain Cable will receive $993,339 for a project in Endicott in Floyd County.
As many as one in 10 Americans can't get Internet connections fast enough to engage in such common online activities as watching video or teleconferencing, and two-thirds of schools have broadband connections that are too slow to meet their needs, the Commerce Department reported earlier this year.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission released a national broadband plan that set a goal of hooking up 100 million U.S. households to broadband connections of 100 megabits per second by 2020. That's at least 20 times faster than many existing home connections.
About 28 percent of rural America, or nearly 19 million people, lack access to Internet with speeds of 3 megabits per second or faster, compared with only 3 percent, or 7.2 million people, in non-rural areas, according to an FCC report.
Adelstein said rural areas lag behind the urban areas of the country when it comes to broadband Internet access because the more remote areas don't have enough people, have rugged terrain, or it's too costly for companies to serve them.
The majority of the funding comes in the form of infrastructure loans totaling about $90 million for five broadband projects. These projects join others across the country that are sharing $192 million in loans announced by the Agriculture Department in late July.
About $13 million of the funding is through the USDA's Community Connect program, which provides grants to rural, economically challenged communities.