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Lawmaker: Broadband Funds Exclude Appalachia

Communities isolated by mountains, but geographically near populated areas don't qualify for federal stimulus funding.

Rural areas are slated to receive a lopsided amount of federal stimulus grants for broadband, but mountainous regions -- likewise short on broadband access -- are in danger of having grants withheld, according to a congressman conducting hearings on the issue this week.

Rick Boucher, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, noted that in mountainous areas of his West Virginia home state, grant funding can be withheld because communities are near cities, even though they are cut off from easy broadband access by mountains. Boucher is conducting a hearing Friday on oversight of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act involving broadband access.

"For communities with small populations that are isolated by mountains, the cost of building broadband can be great," Boucher said in a statement prepared for Friday's hearing, "And with populations as few as 100 homes, that cost can't be recovered through the revenues to be realized from the broadband service."

Noting that the Appalachian region contains hundreds of communities that are isolated primarily by mountains, Boucher said they often don't qualify for federal stimulus funding because they are located within 50 miles of a city of at least 20,000 " a situation that can exclude communities from receiving federal funding for broadband access.

Under the current stimulus guidelines, Boucher said "almost the entire Eastern U.S." is disqualified from receiving grant monies.

Boucher also complained that the funding application process for rural applicants is too time-consuming, requiring applicants to first pass muster at the Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and, if they are rejected there, to seek approval at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA.)

Requests for grants and loans totaling some $28 billion have been submitted for $7.2 billion earmarked for broadband access. The first group of winners is expected to be announced in November.

InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis on setting government IT priorities. Download the report here (registration required).

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