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Remarks Announcing ARRA Broadband Internet Grants, Seattle, Washington

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AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

CONTACT OFFICE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS

202-482-4883

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Remarks at 2010 Census Operational Press Briefing

Press release

Hello everyone.

It is so great to be back home, and to see so many familiar faces here today. 

It's even better to know that the reason why I am here is to announce an investment that will significantly benefit people and businesses throughout Washington state.

Before getting started, I'd like to thank Reps. Inslee and Baird, and Mayor McGinn for joining us this afternoon.

Like me -- like everyone throughout the Obama administration -- these leaders have a singular focus right now: Putting people back to work and getting the American economy back to full strength. 

President Obama has often said that we are not in a real economic recovery until people can feel it in their own lives.

And we are not there yet.  Too many people in Washington and across America are still struggling to find work, and pay their bills.

But we are moving in the right direction.

It's important to remember that at the outset of 2009 – when President Obama took office – the U.S. economy was shrinking at a rate of 6.8 percent – a free fall that risked turning a recession into a depression. 

But the American economy has now been growing for four straight quarters.

And our economy has created private-sector jobs for six months in a row, after 22 months straight of job losses. 

I know these statistics are cold comfort to the many people in Washington still struggling to get a foothold in this economy. 

But you can’t reverse the devastation of a national recession that saw eight million job losses overnight.

We’ve got to keep chipping away at this unemployment challenge from every direction.

And today, I am proud to help Washington State make another small but important step towards economic recovery.

I’m here to announce a Recovery Act grant that will help significantly upgrade high-speed Internet service in 25 of Washington’s 39 counties.

This grant is one of 66 being announced today by the Commerce Department.  We’re funding $1.47 billion worth of projects in 29 states primarily to build out Internet infrastructure; but also to fund public computing centers and to promote high-speed Internet adoption in underserved communities.

Nationwide, this funding is going to help:

  • Build 25,000 miles of new broadband networks.
  • Directly connect 8,000 community anchor institutions like libraries, public safety institutions and schools to high-speed Internet service; and
  • It will bring new high speed Internet infrastructure to areas with a total of nearly 19 million households and 1.8 million businesses

These investments meet the twin goals of the Recovery Act.

One, they’re going to put people to work in the near term, as Washington’s citizens will find jobs digging trenches, laying fiber-optic cable, and stringing up utility poles to build out this new high-tech infrastructure.  

Two, these investments will lay the groundwork for sustainable economic growth in the medium to long-term, by connecting and upgrading areas of the state that for too long, have been without the full economic, educational and social benefits of high-speed Internet. 

Although you wouldn't know it from some critics, the Recovery Act has already delivered substantial benefits to America and Washington State, and has been responsible for at least 2.5 million jobs.

The Recovery Act was carefully designed, with funds being given in roughly equal thirds to three big priorities:

  • Tax relief for middle-class families;
  • Critical infrastructure spending on things like roads, bridges, energy and rail lines;
  • As well as critical relief to cash-strapped American families and state governments.

And Washington state has seen plenty of assistance, with: 

  • 2.5 million Washington families receiving $600 million in tax relief;
  • Displaced workers in Washington receiving $1.3 billion  in extended and expanded unemployment insurance; and
  • 294 transportation infrastructure projects underway valued at over $819 million.

Under the Recovery Act, the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture were also given responsibility for administering nearly $7 billion in grants and loans to improve high-speed Internet access in underserved communities across America.

Thanks to the work of the Northwest Open Access Network or NoaNet, some $139 million of that investment is coming right here. 

Earlier this year, NoaNet was awarded almost $85 million dollars in the first round of funding for this program, which will lay 830 miles of fiber-optic cable and directly connect 123 community anchor institutions in 18 counties across the state. 

Now, today, I am announcing an additional $54 plus million in second round funding NoaNet plans to use to:

  • Lay another 511 miles of fiber-optic cable;
  • Leverage some 2,300 miles of existing cable; and
  • Directly connect 285 anchor institutions.

This includes:

  • 99 K-12 schools;
  • Ten healthcare facilities;
  • 43 libraries; and
  • Five community colleges, as well as the Jefferson County extension of Washington State University.

Specifically, this improved high-speed Internet network is going to:

  • Support advanced telemedicine services at area hospitals;
  • Boost bandwidth available at regional schools that currently suffer from network problems when too many users try to access the Internet at once; and
  • Enable public safety entities to access JusticeNet, Washington state’s integrated network supporting state judicial system institutions. 

And these grants promise to stimulate even more private sector and local investment. 

This grant – like many we’re giving throughout America -- is focused on expanding or upgrading what’s called “Middle Mile” high-speed Internet capabilities in places where the private sector has been unwilling or unable to invest because the physical terrain was too difficult or there simply wasn't enough profit potential.

Just as the federal government might provide funding to build a highway across the state, and then have local governments fund the construction of the local streets that branch off of it, most Commerce Department funding is helping to build or upgrade this middle mile Internet backbone that allows local Internet Service Providers to bring high-speed Internet directly to homes or businesses.

In Washington state, seven providers have already expressed interest in building new connections off of these federally funded networks.

In the months and years ahead, the infrastructure upgrades Commerce is funding with this NoaNet project will enable local governments, nonprofits and private companies in Washington to potentially bring high-speed Internet to over:

  • 86,000 households; and
  • 14,000 businesses 

This is where the real economic opportunity lies for Washington.  More high-speed Internet means more small businesses, farmers and entrepreneurs with better access to:

  • National and international markets,
  • Skilled employees;
  • Training in best practices; and
  • A broader array of vendors, suppliers and customers

In short, this program is a textbook example of government investment done right. . .

. . . Where government start-up funding catalyzes millions of dollars in additional private and local investment, while enabling countless Washingtonians:

  • To start a business, grow a business or find new job opportunities; and
  • To take courses from the best colleges located anywhere in the state, the country…indeed anywhere in the world

Aside from all the concrete benefits this investment will bring to the region, it also addresses a fundamental issue of equality and fairness.

Having access to the Internet’s economic, health, and educational benefits should be as much of an American right as attending a quality school or feeling safe when walking down the street.  We do not always reach these goals, but we have to try.

High speed Internet access is also an issue of America’s economic competitiveness.

Our best minds should be able to talk to one another, create and innovate regardless of where they come from.  Over the long-term, enabling our people to create new products and new ways of doing business will help create sustainable economic growth in communities throughout Washington.

This $54 million plus grant to NoaNet to expand high-speed Internet access will pay dividends for decades to come.

And I want to congratulate everyone here who navigated a very competitive grants process to bring this important investment to the people of Washington. 

Thank you and congratulations.