TMCnews Featured Article

September 24, 2009

NTIA: First Round of Broadband Stimulus Funds To Be Awarded in Early November

By Michael Dinan, TMCnet Editor

Communities and organizations seeking a slice of the $4 billion available in the first round of broadband stimulus funding now have a target date of early November when they can expect to hear back from the federal agency that oversees much of the nation’s telecom policy-making.

This week, the deputy administrator and deputy assistant secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration – the U.S. Department of Commerce agency that advises the president on telecom policy – said that NTIA hopes to start awarding grants early in November.

Speaking at a wireless show in Nashville, Anna Gomez said that all grants will be announced, hopefully, by Dec. 31.

As Phil Goldstein notes in this article for FierceWireless (News - Alert) – a publication of FierceMarkets – NTIA would expect to receive a second round of apps by late winter.
“Currently, the NTIA is deciding whether to combine the second round of applications with a third round, though Gomez emphasized that a decision had not been made either way,” Goldstein reports.

“Additionally, the NTIA is set to receive broadband mapping data from states by February,” Goldstein reports. “The data will include deployment information, advertised speeds and types of service, she said, which will be used to identify where the greatest needs are for broadband in unserved and underserved areas. By February 2011, the NTIA is expected to have an interactive, national broadband map in place.”

That seems like a long ways away, but given the complexities in broadband stimulus awards, it’s a lofty goal.

Consider especially the multitudes of out-of-the-way areas that broadband stimulus funding is designed to target. 

As TMCnet reported today, 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.”

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.”

So all eyes now turn to early November in their calendars. Stay tuned to TMCnet’s broadband stimulus online community for more breaking news on the topic.

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