Obama administration picks broadband assistance recipients

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, May 5, 2016 - USDA and EPA said Thursday that five communities would receive planning assistance through the Obama administration's interagency Cool & Connected program to set up broadband services and revitalize their downtowns.

“Broadband has helped rural communities across the country gain access to improved health care, open the door to educational services and expand business and social opportunities,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a USDA release. “The new Cool & Connected program will help these small-towns use broadband to provide new opportunities for people and businesses in rural areas.”

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EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said through the program's broadband investments, “rural communities are creating vibrant, thriving places that improve human health and the environment.”

The program works by giving select communities direct technical assistance to develop an action plan for using planned or existing broadband service to enhance the economic viability of small towns, USDA says. With broadband service, communities can better attract and retain investment and people in rural areas, which the department says are critical to diversifying local economies.

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The five communities chosen to participate in this year's pilot are:

  • Georgetown, Del., will explore strategies to leverage new broadband infrastructure serving county facilities to provide public internet access, and to attract and retain businesses downtown.
  • Leon, Iowa, will develop a strategy for implementing a free Wi-Fi zone in its downtown square to draw more economic activity and provide low-income residents with internet access.
  • Montrose, Colo., will combine its new broadband service with other downtown assets, (including a farmers' market) to promote local food access, accelerate main street development, and attract visitors.
  • Toledo, Wash., will utilize their new broadband network to support business and tourism downtown that will build on Vision: Toledo - a grassroots coalition of people committed to community revitalization.
  • Tullahoma, Tenn., will receive technical assistance to market downtown Tullahoma as a free Wi-Fi zone and develop a physical work-share space to complement new infrastructure investments, and add to the growth of downtown businesses.

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