The National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), one of the government agencies in charge of doling out a large chunk of the $7.2 billion in stimulus money, announced that nearly 2,200 entities have applied for nearly $28 billion in stimulus money from both the NTIA and the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS). That number is nearly seven times the $4 billion available for the program in the first round and debunks the notion that the lack of interest among major broadband operators would diminish the effectiveness of the program.

"There seems to be a fair representation of local community projects," said Craig Settles, head of consulting firm, who has been immersed in the process since NTIA and RUS revealed the plan. "That was a question mark, because the rules were geared toward telecom companies in large part because of the way RUS has given money out in the past ... This speaks to the breadth of the potential solutions that are out there."

NTIA also said bidders committed another $10.5 billion of their own money in matching funds, which means all of these applicants are coming forward with more than $38 billion in proposed projects. The agency said more than 320 applicants are seeking about $2.5 billion for broadband awareness, training, access and support, while another 360 are asking for a total of $1.9 billion for computer centers to expand broadband access. The rest want funding for infrastructure projects.

Applications came in from a diverse range of parties including state, local and tribal governments; non-profits; industry; anchor institutions, such as libraries, universities, community colleges and hospitals; public-safety organizations; and other entities in rural, suburban and urban areas, NTIA said.

NTIA said it won't announce any winner before Sept. 14, but it may be November before it does so, according to experts, given the vast number of applications — some of which are 500 pages in length. After this first round of grants is awarded, totaling $4.7 billion, the rest will be doled out in several chunks, and all of the money is scheduled to be allocated by September 2010.

One applicant that has made its intentions public in the public-safety arena is SkyTerra, which applied for $37 million from the NTIA's Sustainable Adoption Program. The company's application calls for the development and deployment of dual-mode wireless devices, optimized for public-safety use, in the 700 MHz band. The devices would be capable of using the terrestrial 700 MHz network — presumably based on Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology — and SkyTerra's satellites.

"The (American Recovery and Reinvestment) Act talks about unserved and underserved communities and separately breaks out public-safety use of broadband, so there is a real emphasis in the act on public safety, and that's where our proposal really goes to," said Jeff Carlisle, vice president of regulatory affairs with SkyTerra. "We're not going to have public-safety agencies building out unless devices are capable of using the network."

Still, while the act spells out the need to fund public-safety projects, it's unclear how NTIA and RUS will view public-safety filings — on a standalone basis or one that benefits both public-safety and consumer broadband? It appears that many of the applications propose a mixed-use capability, whereby consumers and public-safety both benefit, Settles said. That notion also plays into the vision of public-safety broadband networks in the 700 MHz band.

For instance, non-profit OpenCape Corp. in Massachusetts submitted an application proposing a $40-million project to build middle-mile capacity in Cape Cod, the islands and southeastern Massachusetts to address the region's need for digital capacity for economic development, regional sustainability and emergency services opportunities. Using 300 miles of fiber optics and a microwave backhaul network, OpenCape plans to connect what it calls more than 70 community anchor institutions to the network as part of its initial buildout, including 12 emergency shelters located in schools, 30 libraries, five colleges, six academic research facilities and 18 town or public-safety buildings.

"RUS and NTIA are really looking at innovative solutions," Settles said. "This creative middle-mile solution will address the fact that right now, these areas in Massachusetts are very vulnerable to major disasters like hurricanes that would knock out the current infrastructure."