Friday, July 10, 2009

Time to Apply for Broadband Grants Has Arrived

With an announcement by Vice President Joe Biden on July 1st, the process to spend four billion dollars to work toward universal broadband access has begun.

There is now a wealth of information at a new web page to consolidate the efforts of the involved federal agencies: the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (“RUS”) . While the actual application to apply for funds is, surprisingly, not yet available , – considering that applications may be submitted as soon as July 14th – the Notice of Funding Availability (“NOFA”) is now online.

As stated in the NOFA, the general policies and application procedures for providing broadband grants, as anticipated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, have been placed in two programs. The Broadband Initiatives Program (“BIP”) is offered by RUS to “extend loans, grants, and loan/grant combinations to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas” and NTIA is offering the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (“BTOP”) which “makes available grants for deploying broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas in the United States, enhancing broadband capacity at public computer centers, and promoting sustainable broadband adoption projects.” It is anticipated that expanding broadband access “will advance the objectives of the Recovery Act to spur job creation and stimulate long-term economic growth and opportunity.”

The NOFA is 121 pages long. The application itself contains 15 sections, most of which include numerous, detailed sub-topics. The deadline is August 14th. And that’s only step one. The process continues for those applicants which get into the “pool of viable and potentially fundable applications.” Only those applications which are considered to be the most highly qualified (that is, receive the highest scores) will advance to the second step of the review process. In step two, NTIA and RUS must “fully validate” each surviving submission. Specifically, in this “due diligence” phase, applicants will be asked to submit additional information, as appropriate, to further substantiate the representations made in their application. Moreover, during step two of the BTOP application process, the Governor of each state will receive a list of the applications under consideration and may prioritize and recommend projects, along with an explanation of why the selected proposals meet the greatest needs of the state. The updated application would be due by October 15th.

The time is ripe for the federal government to stimulate broadband deployment. The United States under the previous Administration had a poor broadband record when compared with the availability, speed, and bandwidth price of most developed nations. However, will the complex application process created by the NOFA keep all but the most well-heeled applicants away?

Lou Manuta

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