It was a long day of powerpoints at the St. Paul ARRA Broadband Workshop this week. Overall, very little new or definitive information was provided. We did receive a folder with a flood of powerpoints (all online). Attendees who have spent significant time examining the NOFAs learned even less than I did.
The following are some of the items that I wrote in my notes…
During the opening general session, attendees were told to stop fussing over the policy and to worry about incorporating plenty of partnering and long-term sustainability into quality applications.
The RUS funds will not be gone after the first round – their ability to make loans allows them to actually triple the amount that RUS has to fund projects.
Applications made to both RUS and NTIA will be considered simultaneously in the first round.
The “remote” definition is in flux. Watch the web site for updates.
A COMPLETE APPLICATION IS REQUIRED! Incomplete applications will suffer immediate rejection. Applications rejected in round 1 can be resubmitted in later rounds. Applications making it through Step 1 will proceed to Step 2 where information will need to be verified.
Use the self-help scoring sheets as a strategic tool for designing competitive applications.
Make sure that all elements are consistent – budgets, timelines, executive summary. Ask others to read for clarity and consistency.
Community anchor institutions are key targets for involvement. Public safety agencies too.
Project must be substantially complete within 2 years. That is now defined around 70%.
Pay attention to the “but, for” requirements.
Many attendees had negative comments about the amount of data, unavailable from any secondary source that is required to document unserved and underserved. These concerns were met with a shrug and a “do the best you can and document your process”.
Sustainable Use workshop
Increased subscription rates are a significant desired outcome. Pay attention to target demographic groups – elderly, poor, children. An audience member asked about people with disabilities and that would also be included.
Link to other stimulus projects – both broadband and other agencies – HUD was strongly noted. You can check this out at recovery.gov. Section 8a businesses used to deliver services would also be seen as a plus.
Public Computer Center workshop
Must be open to the public or a subset of the public.
Broadband must be available. Equally important is outreach and training. Address risk factors of target demographics – language, disabilities, transportation, poverty. Have a strategy to address these factors.
Sustainability is important. They defined this as using leverage and continuing effort.
Applications by independent groups can be linked to document collaboration. No need for one organization to be the sole applicant.
Closing note – After attempting to answer all the questions at one afternoon session, the NTIA staff person opened the floor for comments for the last several minutes. She talked about their staff betting pool on dollars requested, number of applications and so on. One audience member responded that there are going to be fewer than expected due to the NOFA rules. Somewhat taken aback by this opinion, she asked why. Audience members made it clear that they believe that the rules significantly deter community overbuilds and set too low a standard for broadband speeds.
Overall, the complexity of the application process and the difficulty in developing projects was made very clear throughout the day. Many questions from the audience were answered with “we will have to get back to you” or watch the web site. They are developing a FAQ which will go online after the last workshop next week.
On a bit of a grumbling close, the “reception” held Tuesday night featured a cash bar (to be expected), no food (a bit of a disappointment) and no national staff to informally answer questions (lame). State program staff were present but had as many questions as the attendees. It was fund to get together with folks from around MN and the rest of the country to discuss projects and approaches.