After all the hard work and news coverage, officials in Grant County received bad news about the immediate future for improved internet access here.
“Unfortunately, we were not one of the recipients of the 2018 Community Connect grant,” John Day City Manager Nick Green told the Eagle.
John Day, on behalf of the Grant County Digital Network Coalition, had applied for a $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with plans to expand broadband coverage south from the John Day Fire Hall to Seneca, with laterals and fiber-to-home service along the way.
The $450,000 match for the grant would have come from the $1.8 million appropriation the city of John Day received from the legislature in 2017. The goal was to leverage the state money as match funding for grants. Phase 2 would continue the trunk line to Burns, and Phase 3 would involve running fiber laterals east and west into the John Day Valley.
The coalition also used the state money to hire Commstructure Consulting for infrastructure design and project management. All told, the coalition spent about $93,000 developing the USDA grant application, Green told Rep. Greg Walden Oct. 31.
A total of 124 project applications were submitted, and 19 projects were awarded. The winners included nine telephone companies, two electrical cooperatives, two telephone cooperatives and the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma.
The 19 projects will benefit more than 27,000 businesses and households in 12 states, not including Oregon. USDA Rural Development awarded $33 million in grants and $58 million in loans for the projects.
“I expect we will talk with USDA in the coming weeks regarding our application and how to make it stronger if we reapply next spring,” Green told the Eagle.
Congress recently made available $600 million in additional funding to help small rural communities improve internet access, and the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction allocated $1.4 billion to support broadband expansion in underserved communities in 45 states over the next decade.
Coalition board member Dan Becker was upbeat about the future for broadband in Grant County.
“We have a high-quality package to go after other grants,” he told the Eagle. “We learned a lot.”
Possibilities for funding include grants to improve rural health care and the U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD discretionary grant program, which has $1.5 billion focused on improving rural highways for autonomous vehicles, Becker said.