Rural communities in Alaska, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas to Gain Access to Local Internet Service.

Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced nearly $2 million in Local Internet Dial-up Service grants in six states. The grants announced are the first available funding through a U.S. Department of Agriculture pilot program designed to finance local Internet access where it currently does not exist.

"These funds will help rural communities gain greater access to internet technologies," says Veneman. "Linking rural communities to these important services will provide citizens better information and business development tools."

Projects receiving grants range from providing local Internet services to three villages in Alaska, to the smallest telephone company in Texas being able to offer wireless local dial-up Internet service to an area that is economically disadvantaged and medically underserved. Veneman announced the following grants:

Unicom Inc., Anchorage, Alaska - $397,024 grant - Funds will be used to provide local Internet services to the villages of Pitka's Point, Mountain Village and St. Mary's in Wade Hampton County in Alaska. The needs of these residents are unique, even for Alaska. Located in the vast tundra region of western Alaska, local internet access offers a means for local residents to create new employment opportunities.

Northeast Telecom Inc., Collinston, La. - $168,750 grant - Funds will be used to provide local dial-up internet services to residents within the telephone exchanges of Ferriday, Saint Jose, Waterproof, Crowville, Ft. Necessity, and Winnsboro, all located within the rural Empowerment Zone/Enterprise Communities of Tensas and Franklin Parishes. Northeast Telecom expects to provide over 2,250 households with local number access to the Internet.

DeepNet Communications LLC in Spruce, Mich. - $277,400 grant - Funds will be used to build a networking infrastructure that will provide much-needed dial-up access to underserved areas of Northern-lower Michigan (Alcona, Iosco, Ogemaw, Oscoda, and Montmorency counties). The infrastructure will provide a solid foundation for future upgrades into offering broadband service into these same areas.

Northern Telephone, Wawina, Minn. - $55,000 grant - Funds will be used to establish a local Internet connection in the sparsely populated rural area of Wawina, Minnesota. Service is not currently available in that area and residents must travel 25-30 miles to the nearest public Internet access site at the Grand Rapids Public Library. The overall goal is to bring Internet directly to the homes of the residents of Wawina and provide them with expanded educational and business opportunities.

Socket Holding Corporation, Columbia, Mo. - $372,000 - Funds will be used to provide local dial-up Internet services to 47 rural communities throughout the state. The funding will allow rural residents to participate in the global economic market at cost far below that of long distance telephone, faxes or express mail.

Big River Telephone Company, Cape Girardeau, Mo. - $290,591 grant - Funds will be used to provide high quality local dial-up Internet services to Scott, Dunklin, and Stoddard counties. The Project will give rural physicians better and more efficient modes of communications to other physicians and the entire medical profession. Developmental and educational programs may be offered via the internet, as well as provide residents with employment opportunities that otherwise would not be available because of transportation and travel distances.

Border to Border Communications Inc., Kerrville, Texas - $400,000 grant - Funds will be used to implement a wireless local dial-up service to an area in deep south Texas that has never had local Internet service. Service will allow for communicating by e-mail, research for school projects, accessing on-line medical information, and developing business opportunities on the internet. Approximately 130 households and businesses will be connected to the service, including 130 school-aged children.

The grants, financed through USDA Rural Development's Rural Utilities Service, will assist communities most challenged by isolation, financial resources, and technological development to help provide the tools to participate in today's global, digital economy. In addition, the project will allow rural residents to benefit from greater educational opportunities and improved health care at a lower cost.

USDA Rural Development serves as the lead federal entity for rural development needs and administers program assistance through three agencies: Rural Housing Service, Rural Business-Cooperative Service and Rural Utilities Service. Further information on USDA Rural Development can be obtained by contacting any USDA Service Center or by visiting USDA's web site at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/