Broadband stimulus money to flow soon; How will public safety benefit?
The Obama administration announced late last week that entities seeking broadband stimulus funding can begin to submit their applications on July 14 and will have until Aug. 14 to apply for the first round of funds that will be released by September. The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the agencies in charge of issuing a total of $7.2 billion for broadband deployments in underserved and unserved areas, issued a 121-page Notice of Funds Availability. The question is: How might the move benefit public safety?
The two agencies expect to award about $4 billion in this round, with two additional rounds of a similar size to follow. The total amount that the agencies expect to award exceeds the $7.2 billion award amount specified in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed early this year because the RUS anticipates awarding a mixture of loans and grants.
It’s unclear whether major telecom companies plan on vying applying for the funds. They are no doubt disappointed by the strings tied to the money. Those applicants that provide wholesale access to their networks at reasonable rates will be given preference for funds. Incumbents are notoriously opposed to these types of net-neutrality requirements.
Will this leave more room for independent wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) and municipalities? I hope so. I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing from municipality deployments that not only bring public-safety into the fold but tie up a host of city needs — such as automating traffic lights — and offer end-user access. It makes sense that multi-purpose proposals such as these are given more weight for funding. I’m anticipating a number of interesting partnerships between WISPs and local governments.
Back in May, the not-for-profit National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), which represents about 1,400 rural electric and telephone companies across 48 states, put a stake in the ground to get fixed and mobile broadband Internet access to underserved communities across the nation, which could benefit public-safety entities in such areas.
The NRTC completed a distribution agreement with rural WiMAX operator DigitalBridge Communications and said that it also made a “significant,” though undisclosed, investment in DigitalBridge. The move positioned NRTC companies to be “stimulus ready” as they get in line to access the broadband funds.
The agreement between NRTC and DigitalBridge comes just weeks after NRTC filed comments with the FCC saying that it is developing a plan to enable its members to offer universal access to broadband throughout rural areas by using a combination of WiMAX and satellite
I’m also hopeful that underserved areas — and municipalities — will get their hands on the fastest network data speeds possible. While the RUS and NTIA defined broadband speed at a low threshold — minimum speeds of at least 768 kb/s downstream and 200 kb/s upstream to end users — applicants that propose to deploy faster speeds are given preference over those choosing to deploy the services at the minimum threshold. The theory is that enough companies will compete with one another so that the fastest technology that is economically feasible will prevail.
I’m looking forward to hearing about all of the innovative proposals entities will submit in order to gain a leg up on the competition for funding.
Editor’s note:The Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) and the law firm of Wiley Rein, LLP, will host a teleconference on Monday, July 13 at 2 p.m. EDT on acquiring broadband stimulus funding. The no-charge teleconference is open to all with prior registration. To register, contact Louise Hippolyte at the EWA at [email protected]. Registrants will receive call in information and materials prior to the teleconference.
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