Spokane Journal of Business

Grant to expand broadband access in rural communities

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Washington state has received $54 million in federal funds for a statewide project to bring affordable broadband Internet access to underserved rural communities across the state.

As many as 14,000 businesses and 2,000 community institutions, including schools, hospitals, libraries, colleges, and universities, are expected to benefit from the access expansion project, and about 100 new jobs are expected to be created.

The funding for the project is being overseen by the Tacomabased Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), a nonprofit conglomerate of public utility districts that work to provide broadband Internet access to libraries, hospitals, businesses, and homeowners in rural or undeveloped areas across the state.

NoaNet estimates that thanks to the $54 million grant, about 1,300 miles of new broadband fiber will be installed in Eastern Washington, and that expanded network will have the capability to deliver service to about 540,000 households in 55 economically depressed communities in the region.

The new broadband connections also will allow life-saving services to reach an even broader range of formerly underserved locations, NoaNet claims. For example, EMTs will be able to communicate with physicians in real time on the way to a medical facility, which will improve patient survival rates, the nonprofit says. It adds that rural doctors also will be able to communicate instantly with medical providers globally.

"Imagine a rural doctor in Republic being able to instantaneously share a patient's test results and consult with an expert at any major medical center in the world," says Greg Marney, CEO of NoaNet. "It's a big deal for rural areas of northeast Washington."

This is the second federal grant NoaNet has received for improving technology access in the state as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), President Obama's 2009 stimulus package. Federal funds now total nearly $140 million toward the project's total cost of $185 million, and about $45 million also has been received from matching contributions from organizations statewide, says Angela Bennink, NoaNet's head of sales and marketing.

Preliminary planning for the project is expected to begin within the next 30 days. All of the separate projects across the state are expected to be completed within the next three years, as outlined by the grant, but could be finished sooner, Bennink says.

  • Chey Scott

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