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IT&E to increase broadband access to rural areas

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 3, 2010) - The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has awarded a US$8 million grant to IT&E to increase broadband services in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Guam.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said yesterday that although the US$8 million will be shared between the CNMI and Guam, he is optimistic the expansion of broadband access will spur economic growth, create jobs, and improve education and health care for the islands."We need to continue working hard to secure more funding opportunities. What is good for the economy is good for the Commonwealth," he said in a statement.

Ricky Delgado, IT&E president and CEO, said yesterday that IT&E is "very happy with this news."

He said IT&E will come out with an official answer to Saipan Tribune questions about the grant in the next few days.

The US$8 million grant will increase broadband access and adoption by upgrading the existing telecommunications network serving remote and underserved areas.

In a separate statement, NTIA said the project is expected to directly connect more than 400 community institutions to the broadband network, including community colleges, K-12 schools, libraries, healthcare facilities, and public safety organizations.

NTIA's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), provides grants to support the deployment of broadband infrastructure, enhance and expand public computer centers, and encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service.

"A high-speed broadband network will enable government agencies, schools, and businesses in the Northern Mariana Island (NMI) to benefit from technological services like videoconferencing and other advanced capabilities," Fitial added.

Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling said broadband plays a critical role in helping communities achieve durable, sustainable economic growth.

"Like the grant announced today, the strongest proposals we have received are the ones that have taken a truly comprehensive view of the communities to be served and have engaged as many key members of the communities as possible in developing the projects," he said.

NTIA received more than 1,800 applications proposing projects totaling nearly US$19 billion during the first Broadband Technology Opportunities Program funding round and has just received a second round of BTOP applications.

The governor said that, while this was a competitive grant within the CNMI and Guam, he lauded the efforts of the CNMI Department of Commerce in providing assistance and support to the three applicants from the CNMI-Docomo, Northern Marianas College (NMC), and IT&E.

"Given the competitive nature of this grant, it was very important that we assisted our three applicants to ensure that the Commonwealth received its fair share of the US$8 million grant. I want to recognize Commerce Secretary Mike Ada and his staff for their continued efforts to bring more ARRA funds to the NMI," he said.

IT&E plans to bring the first high-capacity broadband services to Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands through this grant, the governor added.

The telecommunications firm will also work on upgrading existing network infrastructure, replacing the existing inter-island transmission system using fiber, 3G wireless, and WiMax technology.

Joseph N. Camacho, the Covenant Party's candidate for CNMI delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, separately issued a statement yesterday congratulating IT&E for the ARRA grant award.

He said IT&E's commitment to expanding the opportunities to CNMI citizens "is greatly appreciated and incredibly heartwarming."

"I understand the grant funding will allow IT&E to increase broadband offerings in the CNMI including WiMAX (4G) and enhanced 3G Wireless. The funding will also help to provide additional jobs to the community and hopefully decrease broadband prices to consumers," he said.

Camacho, a former House floor leader, thanked the U.S. Department of Commerce for providing the CNMI with yet another incentive for companies to not only expand but also open up new operations on the islands.

"I applaud IT&E for their application and hard work in winning the competitive grant. Additionally, our appreciation needs to be extended to the governor and the CNMI Department of Commerce for supporting not only IT&E, but NMC and Docomo’s applications for similar funding," he said.

He said the Executive Branch has been working diligently to ensure that the CNMI receives its fair share of ARRA funding, including for energy efficiency, education and now broadband programs.

"I understand this is a team effort and believe strongly in our local government to work with the federal government to procure and execute ARRA related projects as spearheaded by the local Department of Commerce," Camacho added.

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