Obama announces broadband grants to spur jobs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Friday nearly $800 million in loans and grants for the build-out of broadband networks to reach homes, schools and hospitals.

The grants and loans, which will be matched by another $200 million in private investment, is part of Obama’s roughly $800 billion federal stimulus package, which includes $7.2 billion for broadband expansion projects.

Obama said the 66 new infrastructure projects will directly create 5,000 jobs and help spur economic development in some of the nation’s hardest-hit communities.

The announcement comes amid news that U.S. employment fell for the first time this year in June as thousands of temporary census jobs ended and private hiring grew less than expected.

“Once we emerge from the immediate crisis, the long-term economic gains to communities that have been left behind in the digital age will be immeasurable,” Obama said at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

The departments of Agriculture and Commerce are administering a total of $7.2 billion in grants and loans for projects in 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Increasing broadband access to rural and low-income families and small businesses is a major part of the National Broadband Plan issued by the Federal Communications Commission earlier this year.

The FCC plan set several goals to increase the number of people who have subscribed to high-speed Internet, provide greater access to families and institutions that lack broadband and help wireless companies get more airwaves to meet the expected growth in wireless devices.

The projects Obama announced will include laying communications lines to homes, hospitals and schools and expanding computer facilities in libraries, community colleges and other public areas.

The White House said with Friday’s projects, more than $2.7 billion in broadband grants and loans will have been awarded to more than 260 projects across the country since December 2009.

“Broadband can remove geographic barriers between patients and their doctors,’ Obama said. “It can connect our kids to the digital skills and 21st century education required for the jobs of the future.”

Reporting by John Poirier, editing by Dave Zimmerman