Workshop Offers Glimpse of $600 Million Federal Broadband Program

The state USDA Rural Development office, in partnership with the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council, sponsored a Broadband e-Connectivity Workshop at the West Virginia High Technology Foundation complex in Fairmont. The workshop was a preliminary review of the e-Connectivity Pilot Project that will provide $600 million in financial assistance to eligible rural communities that currently do not have broadband service. The program aims to expedite loans and grants for the costs of construction, improvement, and acquisition of facilities and equipment for broadband service in eligible rural areas. Richard Jenkins, telecommunication program manager for the USDA Rural Utilities Services division, said now is the time to start preparing for the program which may officially open for applications in October. Jenkins noted the importance of making contacts with potential providers to discuss projects, noting that public-private partnerships are a critical factor.  Community leaders  are strongly encouraged to provide the FCC with public comments to shape final program details.  Potential applicants must also register in the SAMDuns and eAuthentification systems. Kris Warner, director of the state USDA Rural Development office, welcomed participants representing county commissions, internet service providers, economic development authorities and regional planning and development councils. The USDA anticipates sponsoring an additional workshop in October when the application process for the e-Connectivity Pilot Program is officially launched.