The new year has set off a flurry of announcements across North America highlighting millions in investment in rural connectivity projects. While many projects have been in the works for years, we at Biarri Networks can point to the coronavirus pandemic--remote learning and working, telehealth, and more-- as catalyst for a faster cadence of project announcements.
USDA Shells Out $20 Million to Georgia, Illinois, Oregon, South Carolina
Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) announced over $20 million in high-speed broadband funding to connect unserved and underserved rural areas in Georgia, Illinois, Oregon, and South Carolina. The investment is part of a $550 million congressional allocation for RUS’ second round of the ReConnect Program.
While the ReConnect Program specifies minimum speeds of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload (sub-broadband speeds according to the FCC’s definition of 25 Mbps down / 3 Mpbs up), the program is being hailed by some as a success for bringing internet to some rural areas for the first time.
Here’s what’s been funded:
Pembroke Telephone Company Inc. will use a $4.6 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 3,554 people, 73 farms and 19 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Evans and Tattnall counties in Georgia.
Adams TelSystems Inc. will use a $1.6 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 441 people, 34 farms and four businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Adams County, Illinois.
Casco Communications will use a $6.6 million ReConnect grant and a $6.6 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 5,265 people, 32 businesses, 13 farms and two public schools to high-speed broadband in Linn and Polk counties in Oregon.
Lancaster Telephone Company will use a $1.6 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 5,574 people, 20 businesses, 17 farms and three educational facilities to high-speed broadband internet in Lancaster and Chester counties in South Carolina.
“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now – as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency. Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said.
Canada’s Six-Week Approval Process
The Canadian government has announced that Netago Internet has won the first project to be funded under the $1.75 billion Universal Broadband Fund (UBF) and its UBF Rapid Response Stream. The $1 million award is expected to bring high-speed Internet access to 7,179 underserved households in Starland and Stettler Counties in Alberta, and was approved in a gigabit-fast six weeks!
Launched in November 2020, the UBF was created to quickly address Canada’s unserved areas, and includes the UBF Rapid Response Stream, which makes up to $150 million immediately available for shovel-ready projects that can be completed by mid-November 2021. The Rapid Response Stream’s intent is to streamline the approval process so more Canadians can be connected faster.
Movement in Mexico
Just before the Christmas holiday, it was announced that Hispasat, the Spanish communications satellite operator, awarded Israeli network builder Gilat Satellite Networks, a multi-million dollar contract to grow Hispasat’s cellular backhaul over satellite, effectively expanding the service of Altan La Red Compartida, the shared telecommunications network in Mexico. The deal will expand 4.5G LTE service to over three million people in Mexico living in underserved and unserved rural areas.
While these projects are drops in the proverbial bucket, it shows there’s quite a bit of momentum to connect underserved and unserved rural areas in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. While no two rural broadband projects are alike, they should all start with one common question: “Why?” Why do you need better service and what community needs could the network aim to solve? At Biarri, we always encourage project leaders to “start with the why?.” By doing so, our engineering teams can design a network that addresses community needs, not just connectivity gaps. That’s the best way to bring critical infrastructure like broadband to rural areas.