Qwest seeks grant to expand fast Internet access in Utah

Internet » Money would go to rural and other areas costly to serve with broadband.
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Qwest Communications wants to expand its broadband connections to the Internet into the rural and underserved areas of its Utah operating territory, and it is asking the federal government to help pay for the effort.

The Denver-based telecommunications company has applied for a $350 million grant from the government's Broadband Initiative Program to help it deploy high-speed Internet service to its hard to serve rural areas in the 14 states where it operates.

If the grant is awarded, Qwest said it would commit approximately $17 million to expand and upgrade its network in Utah so that an additional 19,000 residents can have access to broadband speeds of 12 to 40 Mbps, or 40 million bits of data per second.

"We're committed to continuing to expand our broadband network in Utah," said Jerry Fenn, Qwest's Utah president. "But there still are some areas where the cost of deploying our high-speed network remains prohibitive and we just can't make a business case to do it."

When Congress enacted the $787 billion stimulus package in 2009, it set aside $7.2 billion of those funds for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications Information Administration to set up a program to stimulate broadband deployment in underserved areas.

Fenn indicated the $350 million grant that Qwest is requesting would be enough to fund 75 percent of the cost of building out its rural telecommunication infrastructure. Qwest is pledging to cover the remaining 25 percent, or $117 million, itself.

Bart Kendrick, a spokesman for the RUS in Washington, D.C., said the deadline for submitting grant applications under the Broadband Initiative Program is Monday. "And under the law, we [RUS] have to award the grants by Sept. 30, 2010."

If Qwest is successful, it would further expand its "fiber-to-the-node" technology in Utah. That technology utilizes fiber-optic lines to neighborhood or centrally located nodes and existing copper lines from those connection points into nearby homes and businesses.

Fenn estimates the effort would create or help retain 850 Utah jobs and increase state income tax revenue by $1.9 million. And he added the proposed deployment would provide 2,445 businesses, 143 community support organizations, 92 government facilities, three libraries and 120 medical and health care providers with high-speed broadband access.

Qwest's proposed broadband deployment

The company wants to expand its high-speed broadband network into underserved areas in Beaver, Benjamin, Bingham Canyon, Brighton, Cedar City, Charleston, Copperton, Eden, Elsinore, Genola, Glenwood, Heber City, Herriman, Huntsville, Hurricane, Liberty, Midway, Monroe, Morgan, Mountain Green, Ogden, Park City, Payson, Richfield, Riverton, Salt Lake, Santaquin, Sigurd, Smithfield, Spanish Fork, Venice and Willard.