September Newsline: Stimulus impact on utility construction, 2009 infrastructure spending drop, and more

September 2009 Vol. 64 No. 9

Urban areas quest for broadband funds
The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act has targeted $7.2 billion to bring broadband to more Americans, and now underserved urban areas are eligible for the grants as well as rural regions.

The money had been primarily aimed at expanding broadband service to rural areas, but with the urging of some in Congress, urban areas were included in the program.

When the Obama administration announced the broadband initiative July 1, underserved areas were included in the legislation.

Companies are racing to tap federal stimulus programs aimed at spreading high-speed Internet access, with proposals ranging from infrastructure expansion to subsidizing computers with satellite broadband service.

The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) is overseeing $2.4 billion in loans and grants. The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is overseeing distribution of another $1.6 billion in grants, most of which require winners to match 20 percent of the funding.

Money will be awarded in November, and winning projects will start receiving it by year-end. Another application round will be held for the remaining $3.2 billion left for broadband expansion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

According to the Recovery Act, an underserved area is one or more contiguous census tracts that can show at least one of four factors: No more than 50 percent of households have access; no service provider offers at least 3 megabits per second download speed; the rate of broadband subscribers is less than 40 percent; or there is no service.

In some poorer urban census blocks, being below the 40 percent subscriber threshold could mean eligibility for grant money to set up a computer center.

Pipeline construction contracts awarded
Enbridge Energy was awarded a contract to U.S. Pipeline Inc. for construction of 87 miles of 36-inch and 20-inch pipeline with two spreads in Clearwater, Beltrami, Hubbard, Cass and Itasca Counties, MN. Headquarters is Bemidji, MN. The superintendents are Wayne Fontenot and Jim Jennings. The approximate starting date is Aug. 17.

Blackwell Enterprises Inc. has been awarded a contract by Henkels & McCoy Inc. for right-of-way restoration and maintenance of approximately 60 miles of 42-inch pipeline in Lamar County, TX. Headquarters is Paris, TX. The superintendent is Glen Madden. The expected start date was July 6.