Broadband stimulus grant deadline tomorrow
Entities wanting to apply for broadband stimulus money have found the rules surrounding the grant program challenging, resulting in fewer application than expected, according to an official with communications vendor giant Alcatel-Lucent.
In May, Alcatel-Lucent established the “Broadband for All” program designed to provide advisory services — from workshops and consultant work to grant writing — to help potential customers such as telecom companies and governmental entities apply for broadband stimulus funds. The Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) is administered by the Rural Utilities Service (RUS); the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) is administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
Initially, Alcatel-Lucent expected about 40% of the proposals it received to be submitted for grant funds, but it appears that only 15% will be applying, said Rich Wonders, vice president of strategic marketing for Alcatel-Lucent Americas.
Although the application window for the first round of the broadband stimulus grants has been short — the rules were only released on July 1 — the timeframe has not been the biggest problem for entities with projects, Wonders said. Many proposals presented to Alcatel-Lucent were designed to improve broadband access to areas that already had at least some broadband service, so they did not qualify for the grant, he said.
“The definitions offered up by the feds are so very narrow,” Wonders said during an interview with Urgent Communications. They are looking for projects in very rural and very remote areas with no [broadband] service at all … For this round of funding, the focus really isn’t on advanced broadband, but basic broadband connectivity.”
Other issues for providers include “strings” mandating non-discriminatory treatment of traffic over the portion of the network built with the federal grant funds and a requirement to allow physical interconnections, which makes it difficult to estimate how much capacity to build into the network, Wonders said.
To date, Wonders said Alcatel-Lucent has not seen any applications related to public safety or public-private partnerships.
“The challenge with the public-private environments is that they tend to work great on paper, but they don’t work as well in practice,” he said. “And the more creative that one wants to get, the more difficult it becomes to meet the requirements.”
After an initial cut and follow-up application process, awards for the first round of stimulus funding are expected to be announced beginning Nov. 7.
Wonders said there has been speculation whether grant rules will be changed to allow broader use of the funds in future rounds. In fact, some believe that there is a possibility that the second and third rounds of broadband funding will be combined.
“They [officials for NTIA and RUS] have a very daunting task to administer this three times,” Wonders said.