Today, there was a webcast of federal officials discussing the broadband stimulus funding programs. The USDA, NTIA and FCC participated in this joint meeting. Over 2300 people were online viewing this meeting in real time.
The officials provided an update of program details and timing while launching the public comment period. The 90 minute program is available on demand if you would like to take in this full discussion. If you want to understand the details of the broadband stimulus legislation, I suggest that you take a look here.
Here are some of the details:
NTIA: Their goals are to: 1) Close the broadband gap; 2) Stimulate investment; 3) Create jobs; 4) Serve public entities; and 5) Increase public understanding of broadband applications. They stressed a connection to the other stimulus goals of transportation, smart grid, e-health, etc. There is a focus on the undefined terms of “unserved” and “underserved”.
NTIA has over $4 billion dollars for broadband. Of that amount, up to $350 million will be used specifically for broadband mapping (no details on how that will be done), $200 million for public computer centers; $250 million for innovative broadband projects. The balance of over $3 billion will be available for available for telecommunications infrastructure. Applicants can include state governments, other political subdivisions, non-profits and foundations. NTIA can award funds directly to private sector providers if they choose.
The timing on NTIA funding is tentative, but they anticipate three funding rounds. Their first funding announcement (NOFA – Notice of Funds Available) will be sometime between April and June, 2009, with the other cycles in the fall 2009 and spring 2010. All grants will be competitive; each state must receive one grant. Key criteria: Affordability, Speed of Service, Service for health care, education and small business.
The USDA funds are on about the same timetable. They have $2 billion dollars to allocate through loans and grants. Their priorities are rural (areas with 75% rural) without adequate broadband to support job creation. They also have a priority to increase competition by supporting projects that enable multiple providers and serve areas with high percentages of people with no access to broadband.
Both programs call for high levels of monitoring to ensure program standards. Applicants can apply to both NTIA and USDA. Collaborative projects are encouraged.
The FCC is responsible for developing a national broadband plan and they are beginning to get that organized. Their first report to Congress is due in May 2009.