County approves grant for broadband access

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Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer

Broadband in Macon County may soon be getting an additional boost after the board of commissioners gave Economic Development Director Tommy Jenkins approval to apply for a new grant through the National Telecommunications and Infrastructure Administration.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), located within the Department of Commerce, is the Executive Branch agency that is principally responsible by law for advising the President on telecommunications and information policy issues. NTIA’s programs and policymaking focus largely on expanding broadband Internet access and adoption in America, expanding the use of spectrum by all users, and ensuring that the Internet remains an engine for continued innovation and economic growth. These goals are critical to America’s competitiveness in the 21st century global economy and to addressing many of the nation’s most pressing needs, such as improving education, health care, and public safety.

With $288 million available for grants, Jenkins said the application process is expected to have a quick turn around, if Macon County is awarded the grant. The grant would require a public/private partnership, which is why Jenkins needed permission from the county to move forward. 

“If you don’t apply, you don’t get it, so we think it is important to apply,” said Jenkins. “Basically it covers underserved areas … they also look at the most cost effective way to provide broadband.”

According to Jenkins, the grant will be applied for under the existing partnership the county has with BalsamWest, which is currently working on other broadband expansion projects within Macon County. 

Available grants range in amount from $5 million to $30 million and applications are due by Aug. 17. 

NTIA is engaged in a range of efforts to increase broadband Internet access and adoption in America, which supports economic growth, job creation, and improved education, health care, and public safety. NTIA’s BroadbandUSA program serves communities, industry and nonprofits that want to expand broadband infrastructure and promote digital inclusion. BroadbandUSA’s services are driven by the needs and interests of state and local broadband leaders, and focus on encouraging private partnerships, supporting planning efforts, helping to identify funding, and implementing public-private broadband partnerships. NTIA also conducts research and analysis into broadband usage and adoption through our Digital Nation initiative.

The Macon County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with the NTIA grant application. 

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