By Lukas Eggen
Ely Times Staff Writer

The Arizona Nevada Tower Corporation, which is working with White Pine County to bring broadband access to Lund and Preston, received $442,468 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the Community Connect Grant program. In total, the USDA provided $20.3 million in grants to projects across the country aimed at bringing broadband to under served rural communities. There were 14 awards for projects, including projects in Alaska, Kentucky, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

“Access to broadband is one of the most important investments in rural communities today,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a release. “These awards will help create jobs and give rural residents greater access to educational, health care and social services.”

The grant will help cover the project aimed at providing a community technology center as well as broadband Internet access to residents in Lund and Preston.

“This initiative in Lund and Preston is being taken on because there’s a lack of a community center that has computers for kids to do homework with and seniors to come in and learn how to use the Internet,” White Pine Community and Economic Director Jim Garza said. “Broadband was an issue that we needed to rectify. When this grant became available, it was a perfect solution to how we can bring in broadband to Lund and Preston.”

The project will develop a community center with 10 new computers, desks and other equipment necessary to operate the computers. There will also be two employees hired for two years to manage the facility and help teach skills in utilizing the Internet and social media opportunities available to them. The grant will also help pay for the utility costs and any improvements needed, associated with the community center, Garza said.

The grant also helps with the second part of the project, which will help provide Lund and Preston residents with low cost access to the Internet from their homes, which helps remedy an issue that residents there have faced for years.

“The second portion of this grant also provide a repeater to be placed on the GO-GO tower that was recently built that will send a signal up to 10 miles for people to receive Internet through a microwave wireless system,” Garza said. “…We’re happy to receive this grant to allow small communities to have that access to the Internet and not be limited because they’re too small to see this kind of expansion come in.”

The total project cost is estimated to be $520,563.

Garza said the county would like to thank the USDA Rural Development Office in Nevada per Director Sarah Adler, the main office in Washington D.C. per Kenneth Kuchno, Director of the Broadband Division and the USDA Rural Utilities for the grant opportunity. This type of collaboration on projects can help the county move forward with other projects in the future.

“It’s this type of collaboration we want to do more of in the community in seeking out federal grant funds,” Garza said. “This type of collaboration will allow us access to those type of funds.”

The planned community center in Lund is part of a larger strategy aimed at improving broadband access for residents across White Pine County, Garza said. Among other projects happening to help alleviate that include a cell tower in Baker and improved access in Ely. Coupled with the community center for Lund and Preston and Garza said the county is making strides.

“It’s part of the Nevada broadband initiative for White Pine County and is similar to the cell tower that is going in Baker and improvements for Beehive and Mt. Wheeler in our community here in Ely. We’re trying to address broadband issues across White Pine and achieving success one step at a time.”