TDS Telecommunications Corp. Tuesday hosted a groundbreaking ceremony in the Upper Peninsula’s Chatham to mark the beginning of construction on TDS’ first broadband stimulus project.

More than 900 area residents will gain access to a high-speed broadband connection as a result.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service granted funding as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, better known as the federal stimulus.

“TDS used to be known only as a phone company,” said TDS president and CEO of David Wittwer. “Today, we are a broadband company. More than 93 percent of our customers have Internet access. But the last 7 percent are the toughest to reach. Many live in sparsely populated areas, like Chatham. Rural geographies push the limits of technology and make it difficult, albeit nearly impossible to develop a solid business case for deploying broadband. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is giving us a window of opportunity to make broadband available to many more residents in the Chatham area.”

With ground broken, construction of the network is officially under way. It’s expected to be completed by mid-May 2013 announced Joe Kirk, manager of project implementation for TDS, also in attendance at the event.

“But we’re going to do everything in our power to beat our estimates and get this built as fast as possible,” he said.

Jim Turner from RUS, Ron Milford, president of Milford Engineering, and representatives from U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s and State Sen. Tom Casperson’s offices were also on hand at the groundbreaking event.

In August 2009, TDS submitted 13 applications for broadband round one funding through the stimulus. In December 2009, TDS was awarded an $8.6 million grant from the RUS (one of two federal agencies administering the federal broadband stimulus program) to expand broadband access in Chatham. TDS received a total of 44 grants; two in round one and 42 in round two. Engineering firms were selected and announced by TDS in February 2011; construction is now getting under way across the United States.


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