The stimulus act set aside $7.2 billion for expansion of broadband access, believing it would spur economic growth, boost educational opportunities, and create jobs.

Up in rural northern Vermont, it took until the 1960s to run power lines to some towns—decades after the rest of America got turned on. These days, it’s the digital revolution that remains but a rumor in much of rural America.

Dial-up user Val Houde knows this as well as anybody. After moving to East Burke, Vt., four years ago, the 51-year-old mother of four took a correspondence course for medical transcription, hoping to work from home. She plunked down $800, took the course, then found out the software wasn’t compatible with dial-up internet, the only kind available to her.

Selling items on eBay, watching videos, playing games online? Forget it. The connection from her home computer is so slow, her online life is one of delays, degraded quality, and “buffering” warning messages. So she waits until the day a provider extends broadband to her house.

“I feel like these companies, they don’t care about these little pockets of places,” she said one night recently, showing a visitor her computer’s slow internet service. “And I know we’re not the only ones.”

For Houde and millions of other Americans laboring under slow or no internet service, help is on the way.

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Bolstered by billions in federal stimulus money, an effort to expand broadband internet access to rural areas is under way, an ambitious 21st-century infrastructure project with parallels to the New Deal electrification of the nation’s hinterlands in the 1930s and 1940s—and one with important implications for rural education.

President Barack Obama emphasized the importance of high-speed internet access in his State of the Union address last week.

“To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information—from high-speed rail to high-speed internet,” Obama said.