Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, American business owners, scientists, and entrepreneurs have driven our economy forward and kept the United States leading the way in innovation and global competition. A thread woven through the fabric of our national identity has been having the most productive and highly skilled workforce in the world.
A 21st-century America should be no different.
In order to help revitalize a struggling American economy in the post-Depression 1930s, the Rural Electrification Act called for a push to electrify rural areas. Connecting otherwise hard-to-reach communities through electricity and telephone services gave them the ability to more easily compete on both the national and global economic stage. It was an idea as deeply important to the viability of 20th-century rural America as telecommunications and broadband Internet access is today.
For most Americans, the click of a mouse is all it takes to open the door to a world of up-to-the-minute information and global commerce. In remote communities in particular, broadband brings with it new access to health care, education, and economic opportunities that have not been available in the past. But there are still many for whom this is not yet a reality.
In our travels across the country, time and time again we hear stories of the positive impacts of our work building a strong, secure infrastructure. Investments in broadband access have helped our workforce keep up with the increasingly fast speed of business and ensured that our rural communities remain competitive and attractive to new investors.
Since 2009, USDA has invested in new and improved broadband service to 1.49 million rural residents. That means expanded access to state-of-the-art health care, educational and cultural resources, and the opportunity for local businesses to compete in the global economy. In addition to core investments in broadband infrastructure, USDA has financed technologies that rely on broadband to ensure that rural Americans have access to 21st-century technology for education, health, and day-to-day life. For example, since 2009, our investments have helped more than 2,500 rural health care facilities use telemedicine to improve medical services for people living in remote rural areas, and more than 4,600 rural schools implement distance learning technology to expand their reach and improve access to information for thousands of students.
The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) invested more than $4 billion in grants through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program to build network infrastructure, establish public computer centers, and develop digital literacy training to expand broadband adoption. Through those projects, we’ve made significant progress. Commerce grantees have built or upgraded more than 113,000 miles of fiber and connected nearly 25,000 community anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries. Our grantees also have established or upgraded 3,000 public computer centers, trained more than 4 million people, and helped roughly 735,000 households sign up for broadband.
For example, in 2010, NTIA awarded a $16.2 million grant to Iowa Communications Network (ICN) to bring enhanced broadband capabilities to community anchor institutions throughout all of Iowa’s 99 counties. Previously, Iowa’s rural geography made it difficult to attract high-speed Internet providers to the area. ICN’s leadership knew that upgrading its existing 3,000-mile network would be a crucial step in promoting economic and educational opportunities in the state. Upon project completion in June 2013, the ICN project had upgraded its 3,000-mile network, deployed 123 miles of new and leased fiber, and connected more than 2,800 community anchor institutions to the network.
That is the impact of investing in broadband.
And we are still opening more doors.
Yesterday, President Obama announced that he is challenging the federal government to remove all unnecessary regulatory barriers to broadband build-out and competition, and is establishing a new Broadband Opportunity Council. The council will bring together more than a dozen government agencies with the singular goal of speeding broadband deployment and improving access in areas that need it most.
As part of this effort, USDA is accepting applications to its Community Connect broadband grant program and will reopen a revamped broadband loan program, which offers financing to eligible rural carriers that invest in bringing high-speed broadband to unserved and underserved rural areas.
Commerce’s NTIA unveiled our BroadbandUSA initiative aimed at finding new ways to assist communities seeking to ensure their citizens have the broadband capacity they need to advance economic development, education, health care, and public safety. As part of BroadbandUSA, we will share the lessons learned and best practices developed by companies, state and local governments, and other organizations that received our grants. We will use everything from toolkits and training programs, to webinars and workshops, to provide technical assistance, funding leads and basic guidance to communities as they grow their broadband capacity and use.
We know that an investment in broadband infrastructure is an investment in a strong, healthy, educated workforce. With yesterday’s announcement, the Obama administration continues to underscore our commitment to keeping America connected and competitive, and to making sure we do our part to give all Americans the opportunity to succeed.