Broadband agencies sort through funding applications

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has $7.2 billion for broadband funding. And on August 20, 2009, the stimulus ball got rolling as the first wave of applications came swarming towards the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) and Rural Utilities Commission (RUS). After an initial delay due to the overwhelmed application system, NTIA officials said they had received more than 2,200 proposals amounting to $28 billion in funds. But in this round, the first of three possible waves of funding, the government has only $4 billion allocate.

Wednesday the NTIA delivered a database of applications, detailing the approved applications from every state in the Union, plus five territories and the District of Columbia. According to NTIA, applications were submitted by a wide range of broadband seekers, including state, local and tribal governments. Non-profits, libraries, hospitals, colleges and rural telecoms also applied. So did rural phone carriers. Noticeably absent among the applicants were major telecommunications carriers, like AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. Some of the largest telecoms to file applications were Hughes Networks, Level 3 and EchoStar.

State application numbers varied, but overall they were consistent with what industry observers expected. California was the run-away leader, handing in nearly 180 applications, with New York coming in second, submitting just over half that much.

“State governments can be an outstanding facilitator of partnerships,” Casey Lide, Principle at Baller Herbst Law Group, said during an Online forum just before the funding deadline. “Funding agencies are looking for partnerships,” and states like California had a very organized approach to helping their smaller communities apply for stimulus funds, he said.

Finalists for this round of funding will be announced no earlier than next Monday, September 14, according to media reports. Though official word from NTIA is that plans are “to announce funding decisions beginning in the early fall.”

Concurrently, the NTIA is funding a $350 data-collection effort to map broadband penetration and create an interactive, national broadband map by February 17, 2011. States were allowed to apply for grants to help them gather the information for the broadband map, either directly or through designated entities. Initial bids for the mapping effort totaled about $100 million, the NTIA said.

The Federal Communications Commission has to produce a national broadband plan by February 2010, as outlined in the Recovery Act. And NTIA said broadband planning is also eligible for funds, for which 52 bidders have sought $26 million for planning.

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