TMCnews Featured Article


October 21, 2009

Out of Options, North Carolina ISP Seeks Broadband Stimulus Funding

By Michael Dinan, TMCnet Editor


The head of a Roxboro, N.C.-based computer maker and Internet services provider – a company that’s seeking a $3 million grant under the federal broadband stimulus program to expand wireless broadband services – told TMCnet that the proposed expansion can’t possibly happen without those funds.
 
According to Randy King, president of Electronic Solutions, Inc., wireless broadband has been expanded to the limit by his own company as well as local telecom and cable providers.
 
“Without outside funding such as this grant will supply, future expansion is non-existent,” King told TMCnet in an interview, printed in full below. “If the NTIA does not provide funding, the other options include local government funding or private funding.”
 
“The local government is strapped for funds and cannot fund a project of this magnitude without raising property tax rates during a time of recession,” he continued. “If we do not receive funding, our expansion will be limited to areas that have customer density to support the cost of the expansion which may include no more that three areas rather than 26 as we have applied for in the grant. As a small, local company we hear the request of our citizens for broadband services and desire to serve them to the best of our ability.”
 
King’s is one of more than 2,000 organizations that’s eagerly awaiting word from the federal government about applications for grants and loans under the broadband stimulus program – an effort overseen by an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce to bring high-speed Internet to remote and unserved areas in the nation.
 
Electronic Solutions is seeking to install wireless broadband system to serve all homes, businesses and public facilities in Person County, N.C.
 
We also talked to him about what it was like to navigate the application process, and received some very interesting feedback.
 
Our full exchange follows.
 
TMCnet: We’ve read the Executive Summary of your application, and clearly the organization feels there’s a strong need for funding. Take us a little bit beyond the numbers. How will U.S. citizens, consumers and businesses benefit if you’re awarded this grant money?
 
Randy King (pictured left): Our county citizens, governmental facilities and businesses will benefit if we are awarded this grant by increasing access to broadband services. We are located in a rural county in north-central North Carolina only 40 miles from Research Triangle Park. Many employees of RTP park live in Person County and still do not have broadband access at home. Approximately 40 percent of Person County’s 400 square miles still do not have broadband access. The cost of expanding broadband in these areas does not presently provide a return-on-investment for the local telco of Embarq (News - Alert) or cable service Charter. The fastest and lowest cost alternative is to expand our current wireless broadband system to cover the outlying sections of the county.
 
TMCnet: How did you find the application process? What would you recommend the U.S. government tweak in the process, if anything?
 
RK: We found the process to be very involved with numerical details and justification for submitting the first phase application. The grant guidelines noted that approximately 360 manhours were needed to develop the grant yet the timeframe allowed for submittal was 5 weeks. Many companies did not have time to research and apply the guidelines for grant submittal. We dedicated at minimum two full-time employees to information gathering and grant writing to meet the deadline for submittal. We actually completed the online application before the initial deadline even though there were crashes on the government Web site accepting the application.
 
We would recommend more infrastructure be dedicated to the government Web site to reduce time delays on submittals. Also, we believe the grant process fails to identify the dire need of citizens without broadband access. Broadband access should be a required utility service just as is electricity and telephone. Electric utilities were subsidized in the early days to provide service in rural areas and we believe the same type initiative is needed for broadband. Our assessment of the grant application does not place enough emphasis on last mile deployment which is direly needed.)
 
TMCnet: What would you tell reviewers at NTIA about your organization if you could have one minute to talk to them moments before they looked at your application?
 
RK: We believe our application meets 100 percent of the basic initiative for broadband expansion. We are proposing to put broadband in areas where it will not be otherwise offered without financial assistance. We are a local ISP company who has a track record of installing wireless broadband and can supply the remaining parts of Person County with wireless broadband within months of funding. Our area is truly rural yet is adjacent to some of the most “wired” communities in the Research Triangle Area of North Carolina. Our students, our businesses and our citizens deserve a chance to compete on a national scale for jobs and having broadband access is a key to development in Person County. Current unemployment rate in Person County is 11 percent (August 2009).
 
TMCnet: Tell us in plain terms how important it is for your organization to receive this grant money. If you do not receive government funding, what will you do to improve services in the way you’re seeking?
 
RK: It is imperative that we receive grant funding to expand broadband access. We have expanded wireless broadband to the limit of return-on-investment. The local telecom and cable companies have also expanded to their limit. Without outside funding such as this grant will supply, future expansion is non-existent. If the NTIA does not provide funding, the other options include local government funding or private funding. The local government is strapped for funds and cannot fund a project of this magnitude without raising property tax rates during a time of recession. If we do not receive funding, our expansion will be limited to areas that have customer density to support the cost of the expansion which may include no more that 3 areas rather than 26 as we have applied for in the grant. As a small, local company we hear the request of our citizens for broadband services and desire to serve them to the best of our ability.

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