* Funds will link communities, expand computer centers
* Creation of tens of thousands of jobs expected-W. House (Recasts, adds reaction and background)
By John Poirier
WASHINGTON, Dec 17 (Reuters) - The Obama administration released details on Thursday of a $2 billion program in grants and loans to help dramatically expand Americans’ broadband Internet access and create tens of thousands of jobs.
The funds, to be released over the next 75 days, are among $7.2 billion set aside in President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic recovery package to bring broadband access to unserved or underserved U.S. communities.
Vice President Joe Biden, at an event in Dawsonville, Georgia, announced details of an initial $183 million investment in broadband projects in 17 states.
“New broadband access means more capacity and better reliability in rural areas and underserved urban communities around the country,” Biden said in a statement.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans have adopted broadband at home, while one-third have access but have not adopted it, and 4 percent say they have no access where they live, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
Biden’s chief economist, Jared Bernstein, told reporters in a briefing the administration was unable to provide more precise figures on exactly how many jobs would be created, but White House officials said “tens of thousands of jobs” could be created in the near term.
The FCC held an open meeting on Wednesday to provide an update on its national broadband plan due to be submitted to Congress in February. FCC staff stopped short of making formal recommendations because they are still gathering data on which to base their final report.
‘PLATFORM FOR ECONOMIC PROSPERITY’
Officials said on Thursday that broadband expansion projects aimed to link communities to the “Internet backbone,” a network of large, high-bandwidth fiber-optic cables that span the country.
They said the grants and loans, being released by the departments of Commerce and Agriculture, would help expand broadband for education, healthcare and providing workers the flexibility to work from home.
“The community is part of the solution to the national broadband strategy,” said Craig Settles, president of broadband strategy consulting firm Successful.com.
With the rest of the U.S. economy stuck in the doldrums and shedding jobs, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has said the technology sector has been going in the other direction.
“Because of its power to propel innovation, broadband can be our platform for economic prosperity,” Genachowski said in a Dec. 1 speech on technology innovation.
Officials announced four different types of awards:
- $121.6 million to build and improve connections to communities lacking sufficient broadband access.
- $51.4 million to connect end users like homes, hospitals and schools to their community’s broadband infrastructure (the middle mile).
- $7.3 million to expand computer center capacity for public use in libraries, community colleges and other public venues.
- $2.4 million to fund innovative projects that promote broadband demand with population groups where the technology has traditionally been underutilized. (Additional reporting by Ross Colvin and Alister Bull; Editing by Peter Cooney)