Broadband may be key to revitalizing rural Main Streets

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2016 - The Obama administration is hoping to use broadband service to help revitalize main streets in 10 small towns in six Appalachian states.

The plan is part of the administration's “Cool & Connected” program, in which teams of experts help communities develop action plans for using existing or expanded broadband service to create “walkable, connected, economically vibrant main streets and small town neighborhoods.”

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The program is sponsored by USDA, EPA and the Appalachian Regional Commission. By combining broadband service with other local assets, such as cultural and recreational amenities, communities can attract and retain investment and people, reenergize downtowns and diversify local economies, EPA says.

“Cool & Connected will help create vibrant, thriving places to live, work, and play,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says in a release. “We're excited to be working with these local leaders and use broadband service as a creative strategy to improve the environment and public health in Appalachian communities.”

Zanesville, Ohio, for example, plans to use the program to support an emerging arts scene. Clarion, Pennsylvania, hopes to increase its capacity to market nature-based tourism and to create an incentive for students at Clarion University to stay in the community. And Haleyville, Alabama, among other things, wants to connect its library and City Hall to people through digital archives and e-government initiatives.

Other communities selected for the program are: Portsmouth, Ohio; Curwensville, Pennsylvania; Erwin, Tennessee; Jonesville and Pennington Gap, Virginia; and Bluefield, Weirton and Williamson, all in West Virginia. To see descriptions of the plans for each community, click here.

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USDA support is being handled by its Rural Utilities Service, which provides funding for critical infrastructure including telecommunications, electricity generation and transmission, and water and waste water facilities for rural America.

Support from EPA comes from its Office of Sustainable Communities, which helps communities develop in ways that protect public health and the natural environment by creating walkable, livable neighborhoods.

The Appalachian Regional Commission support is through the Obama administration's Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization initiative (POWER), a multi-agency effort to invest federal resources in communities and regions that have relied on the coal industry and are impacted by the changing energy landscape.

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