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Federal grant bringing Wi-Fi to rural areas

A $20.4 million grant announced by the federal government will make available fast wireless broadband to more than 68,000 residents in rural Stevens, Spokane and Ferry counties – areas underserved by Internet service providers.

The award, provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will allow Spokane-based EcliptixNet to begin installing new WiMax, or 4G, wireless systems across the three counties.

Company CEO Jeff Tamietti said the funding is 70 percent grant and 30 percent loan.

WiMax technology provides state-of-the-art fixed and mobile Internet speeds to areas EcliptixNet already serves and new areas to be reached through the grant, Tamietti said.

The goal is to provide potential access to 90 percent of the rural areas of the three counties. The 10 percent not reached by the project are areas blocked by terrain, he noted.

It could generate more than 230 jobs initially and lay the groundwork for future business growth, a state press release noted.

Many rural areas across the country lack cable or DSL service. Broadband grants, part of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, are awarded to help residents and businesses gain access to broadband information.

Tamietti said areas that EcliptixNet now serves will see a WiMax upgrade within the first quarter of 2011. Other areas will see the impact at about the same time, he said.

EcliptixNet will be the Internet service provider for those rural customers, with varying rates based on connection speed.

Roughly 3,600 businesses and 300 community groups and institutions will have access to WiMax, Tamietti said. Nonprofits, clinics, libraries, schools and emergency service groups will be charged half the price, he said.

WiMax can offer customers broadband speeds of 6 megabits per second for residential customers. Business speeds will range up to 10 megabits per second.

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