Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week announced the funding of 126 new Recovery Act broadband infrastructure projects that will create jobs and provide rural residents in 38 states and Native American tribal areas access to improved service.

Broadband access plays a critical role in expanding economic, health care, educational and public safety services in underserved rural communities. Today’s announcement is part of the second round of USDA broadband funding through the Recovery Act. A complete list of projects receiving Recovery Act broadband grant awards today can be viewed in full in this pdf file.

“The broadband projects announced today will give rural Americans access to the tools they need to attract new businesses, jobs, health care and educational opportunities,” Vilsack said. “The Obama administration understands that bringing broadband to rural America provides a gateway for businesses and key anchor institutions — such as libraries, schools, public safety and community centers — to provide services to thousands of Americans. These projects will create jobs building these networks, and the completed systems will provide a platform for rural economic growth for years to come.”

In all, $1.2 billion will be invested in the 126 broadband infrastructure projects through funding made available through the Recovery Act. An additional $117 million in private investment will be leveraged, bringing the total funds invested to $1.31 billion.

By leveraging Recovery Act funding authorized by Congress, USDA has been able to provide loans and grants of $2.65 billion to construct 231 broadband projects in 45 states and one territory. The remaining authorized funds will allow an additional $1 billion in loans and grants by Sept. 30. The Recovery Act provided USDA with a total of $2.5 billion to invest in expanding broadband access to rural America.

According to analysis released by the National Economic Council last year, overall Recovery Act investments in broadband are expected to create tens of thousands of jobs in the near term and expand economic development and job opportunities in communities that would otherwise be left behind in the new knowledge-based economy. Recovery Act broadband projects help bring down the cost of private investment, attract Internet service providers to new areas, improve digital literacy among students and workers, and help create new opportunities in employment, education, and entrepreneurship by wiring homes and businesses.

With new or increased broadband access, communities can compete on a level playing field to attract new businesses, schools can create distance learning opportunities, medical professionals can provide cost-efficient remote diagnoses and care, and business owners can expand the market for their products beyond their neighborhoods to better compete in the global economy.

Funding is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the loan, grant or loan/grant agreement.

Obama signed The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 into law on Feb. 17, 2009. It is designed to jumpstart the nation’s economy, create or save millions of jobs, and put a down payment on addressing long-neglected challenges so that the country can thrive in the 21st century. The act includes measures to modernize the nation’s infrastructure, enhance energy independence, expand educational opportunities, preserve and improve affordable health care, provide tax relief, and protect those in greatest need.