Broadband stimulus awards delayed
Winners of federal broadband stimulus awards won’t be announced until December, a month later than originally planned. Larry Strickling, chief of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) cited the complexity of sorting through the vast number of applications that were received. He said the agency wants to take more time with the first round.
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, NTIA, along with the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) program, is granting and loaning some $7.2 billion in stimulus money that is to be used to bring broadband to unserved and underserved areas. The first round will see entities receive some $4 billion, but the government will release the remaining funds in 2010.
This first round, however, was significantly over-subscribed. For the first round, some 2,200 entities applied for almost $28 billion in stimulus money from both the NTIA and the RUS. 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. A number of the applications propose a mixed-use capability, whereby consumers, public safety and other government functions benefit.
“It’s not really unexpected,” said Daniel Hays, a partner with consulting firm PRTM. “I do think it could go past December. … The government has been ambiguous about the way they will complete round one. I’m not expecting it to be completed in one fell swoop.”
Those interested in applying for the next round are anxious to see what type of applications will be accepted by the federal government. Hays pointed out the complexity and confusion around the application process, with some applications reaching 500 pages in length.
“I’m guessing we’ll get some feedback on the completeness of the information provided by the applicants,” Hays said. “There was a very broad set of interpretations of the information and the depth of information provided to the government.”
Odds are good, however, that many of those awards will be proposals that are government run or run by nonprofit groups that bring together private companies and government entities, including public-safety entities.
Governors’ offices and state broadband program officials around the nation were charged with advising the NTIA on their recommendations for project funding in their states for the first round. Their support for local government-run networks or nonprofits created for public-private partnerships runs from 30% to 50%, noted Craig Settles, founder of Successful.com, which consults with a number of local governments.
A number of ad-hoc groups around the country are forming at the local, state and regional levels and consist of disparate entities — colleges, hospitals, libraries, counties and towns — brought together by the need for broadband connectivity and mobilized by the promise of federal stimulus money. Many are planning to build and share networks, often in cooperation with the private sector.
“I think partnering with institutional stakeholders such as libraries, hospitals and schools will be key,” Settles said. “There are a number of governor’s recommendations for proposals that focus heavily on wiring institutions. If these get funding and the FCC gives credibility to the strategy as potentially being part of our national broadband strategy, there will be a rush by applicants in the next funding round to have this element in their proposals.”
Last month, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sent analysis data to the Federal Communications Commission concluding that $5 billion to $10 billion could install fiber broadband networks in most of the country’s anchor institutions — hospitals, schools and libraries, for example. The FCC is busy crafting a national broadband strategy to bring broadband services to unserved and underserved areas. The FCC is currently evaluating this proposal
Bringing as many stakeholders to the table as possible is the advice L. Robert Kimball Associates consultants gave their government clients that applied for stimulus money in the first round, said Joel McCamley, senior vice president and division manager of telecommunications and technology services for the firm. His firm is advising a number of state agencies and helped craft 20 different applications that are requesting a total of about $450 million in stimulus funds.
“We saw an opportunity to link up our public-safety clients with other entities — whether they are private or additional public agencies — to stretch that dollar as much as possible,” McCamley said. “The more anchor institutions our clients could bring in the fold, we felt the better their chances were in having a better application.”