Hospitals, colleges and libraries across northern New England will be among those benefiting from $90 million in federal funding to expand broadband service.
Economic stimulus grants announced Friday include $44.5 million for New Hampshire, $47.1 million for Vermont and $1.4 million for Maine. Maine already had been awarded $25.4 million in an earlier round of funding.
In Maine, officials said the grant to upgrade computers at more than 100 public libraries will increase the number of broadband workstations by as much as 60 percent and improve training and job-search services offered by libraries.
“High-speed Internet access is vital to expand our educational opportunities and work force development and is an important way to connect Mainers to information and services,” Maine Gov. John Baldacci said in a statement. “By connecting Maine people and businesses to high-speed broadband — students, workers, families and companies — Maine will be able to compete for business and jobs now and into the future.”
New Hampshire and Vermont plan to extend faster and more affordable fiber-optic networks to schools, hospitals and other anchor institutions.
In New Hampshire, the money will go to Network New Hampshire Now, a public-private collaboration led by the state university system. The federal grant will be matched with $22 million in private and in-kind funding. The money will be used to expand broadband in all 10 counties and create a wireless public safety network.
Officials estimate the grant will create nearly 700 new jobs in New Hampshire while providing affordable Internet access to 12,000 businesses and 700 institutions.
“The availability and affordability of broadband supports job creation, and that benefits everyone in the state,” said UNH President Mark Huddleston. “Without it, businesses will locate elsewhere.”
The Vermont money will go to Vermont FiberConnect to increase bandwidth at state offices, health care institutions and schools in seven counties and to the Vermont Telephone Company, which will create a network to schools, colleges and public safety facilities.
Vermont FiberConnect is a partnership between Sovernet Communications and the Vermont Telecommunications Authority, whose executive director said the grant will provide community institutions with tremendously abundant bandwidth at affordable rates.
“It will really allow these kinds of facilities to use broadband in ways that are much less constrained by bandwidth limitations,” said Christopher Campbell. “The other major benefit we’ll see is that this will bring high capacity fiber-optic connectivity deep into our rural communities that will allow providers of broadband and cellular service to home and small business users to more affordably build out the networks.”
The grants — part of $7.2 billion included for broadband in last year’s stimulus bill — have been criticized by some phone and cable companies who fear they will have to compete with government-subsidized broadband systems.
FairPoint Communications, which bought the phone lines in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont two years ago, has insisted that Maine’s $25.4 million project would duplicate much of its system. After complaining to lawmakers, the company reached a deal that will enable it and other phone companies to expand broadband with fees collected from users of the new fiber network.
Holly Ramer of the Associated Press contributed to this report.