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Oklahoma to Distribute Federal Broadband Fund on Jan. 1

Starting Jan. 1, 2024, the Oklahoma Broadband Office will begin to administer more than $1.3 billion in federal grant funding to bring broadband Internet service across the state.

(TNS) — Starting Jan. 1, 2024, it will be the job of Oklahoma Broadband Office to administer more than $1.3 billion in federal grant funding to bring broadband internet service to all of Oklahoma.

"More than 568,000 rural Oklahomans don't have access to affordable and reliable high-speed Internet services," Mike Sanders, OBO executive director, said Monday. " Garfield County is a bright spot in broadband, with the number around 4,600 who still need service access."

Sanders was in Enid on Monday to speak to Enid Rotary Club at Stride Bank Center.

Dwight Hughes, superintendent and CEO of Autry Technology Center, is on the OBO board of directors.

"This is the next step for rural Oklahoma," he said. "It will help rural Oklahoma level the playing field."

OBO will award the federal grant funding to Internet service providers to build infrastructure in areas where Oklahomans lack such services today.

"The effort we are undertaking is a great one," Sanders said. "The benefit to families, farms, businesses and communities is this generation's equivalent of the impact of rural electrification in the 1930s and the interstate highway system of the 1950s."

Broadband will help the economy by boosting access to jobs, helping to connect with global competitiveness and by helping businesses run more smoothly, he said. In education, the Internet helps with research and homework, with families connecting with schools and being able to connect with higher education and training programs.

Other benefits include health care options, connection to weather and public service updates and access to family and friends all over the world along with entertainment options, he said.

Sanders is from Kingfisher and served six terms in the Oklahoma Legislature and at one time was House Majority Leader. He also worked early in his career for the President George W. Bush administration in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sanders said his office will have a staff of 14 people, including a general counsel who will help guide them through the government red tape, and a compliance manager who will oversee service providers building the infrastructure.

"We have been working with the tribes," Sanders said. "Two-thirds of the land where we'll be putting optic fiber in the ground will be on tribe's property."

OBO plans include an aggressive and open effort to ensure fast and affordable broadband throughout the state, he said, and to administer federal grant programs as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Byrd is the education reporter for the Enid News & Eagle.

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