Recipients of the first round of national broadband stimulus grants, 17 states have good cause for celebration heading into 2010. Just before the holiday break the government began doling out a portion of the $7.2 billion allotted to improve broadband access, announcing $182 million for 18 projects.

Many of these grants will be used to expand access in rural regions of the country, which is vital to the economic recovery. Tens of thousands of new jobs will be created almost immediately and the benefits will continue to flow down from there. Small businesses – the backbone of the American economy — will gain new opportunities to grow and compete. High speed access will enable them to be more efficient, provide better customer service and expand their businesses. And this is just the beginning for the SMB market, nicely summarized by Hillicon Valley.

For consumers who have gone without broadband, a whole world of communications will open up enabling new ways to connect, anywhere, anytime from a variety of channels. Imagine grandparents living miles away from their little ones who can now ‘visit’ regularly by video. Parents can check in with kids away at college with the click of a mouse. Schools and libraries will get long needed upgrades, enabling students significantly expanded access to information.

Increasing broadband access for all Americans is a win-win, and getting the ball rolling sooner rather than later – even as some details are being ironed out –makes sense to kick-start the recovery effort. An important next step will be a renewed focus on the mapping effort– already in progress in a number of states through the first round of grants. The national map –expected to be complete in early 2011—will ensure funds are allocated properly to the communities most in need. The roll-out of the National Broadband plan – due in February – will also be a crucial part of this momentous effort, particularly in determining how to fund access for all Americans beyond what is allocated in the stimulus funds. Early estimates put costs in the range of $20 billion to as high as $350 billion. While there are many questions that remain unanswered and challenges ahead, these are exciting times, and what happens next is sure to significantly change how we learn, work and play.