TMCnews Featured Article

September 24, 2009

Broadband Stimulus Shines a Light on Forgotten Towns, Counties

By Michael Dinan, TMCnet Editor

As advocates for wide broadband stimulus fund distribution hail an effort to prevent incumbents from knocking around smaller organizations and communities in their bids for $7.2 billion in grants and loans, reports are emerging out of every corner of the nation about the need for broadband Internet access.


The Associated Press reports this week that Ohio’s varied terrain makes the Buckeye State a strong candidate for funds, as it fits the bill as both an “under-served” and unserved area when it comes to broadband.
Advocates for the high-speed connectivity in Ohio have been on the ball, developing plans for this past summer’s applications (to be decided upon in early November) starting more than two years ago.
One of those advocates, Tom Fritz, executive director of the Connect Ohio broadband initiative, reportedly said that access especially a problem in poor urban neighborhoods, isolated rural counties, and areas with mountainous terrain (translation: Appalachians).
“We’ve got data that a lot of other states do not have that can allow applicants to show need demographically and geographically,” Fritz said, according to AP reporter Julie Carr Smyth. “We’ve also had discussions across every county in Ohio, which has given us a sense about what communities feel is their highest priority.”
At this point, applicants such as those in Ohio are anxiously awaiting the broadband stimulus funds awards process. 
Experts in the area of broadband stimulus, such as Craig Settles, long have railed against what they call the “backdoor incumbent challenge clause” in the NOFA rules, which they say allows incumbents in an area to challenge an application by claiming they already service the proposed coverage area.

Naturally, by creating an extra step for applicants – and requiring those applicants to have resources in place – the “clause” favored deep-pocketed incumbents. 

As Settles noted in an article this week, Asst. Sec Lawrence Strickling, head of NTIA, said in a recent Congressional hearing that “incumbents do not have a veto” over NOFA applications. 

"Strickling laid out a fairly good picture of how this process will run,” Settles reported. “Applications with infrastructure proposals have proposed to cover areas where there isn’t adequate or any broadband service. Maps are being generated for these areas through a publicly accessible database so you can see the proposed coverage area. During the review period anyone, including incumbents, can submit a message on the site saying they agree or not that the areas currently are not receiving adequate broadband.”

Because applicants had to provide detailed information to justify their claim that these areas need broadband, “incumbents have to provide a lot of information to overcome the presumptions that have been established by the applicants,” Strickling said, according to Settles.

“NTIA will evaluate the challenge if it feels the challenge and supporting material throws the proposal into dispute, but NTIA and not the incumbent will have final say in determining whether the app moves to final review,” Settles reported.

That kind of activity is good for groups such as Connect Ohio, which was developed two years ago following Gov. Ted Strickland’s creation of a statewide broadband initiative.

Connect Ohio has applied for $4.5 million to equip a network of public computing centers and $7.5 million for an outreach program to reach the 4.3 million Ohioans.

“It’s really expensive to lay a broadband network over mountains and hills and valleys and dales,” Strickland said, according to the AP. “It’s heavy lifting without this (stimulus) money to get investment into those areas where investments don’t make a lot of financial business sense.”” in the NOFA rules, which they say allows incumbents in an area to challenge an application by claiming they already service the proposed coverage area. 

Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan