There is a lot of speculation that we might be seeing some money aimed at broadband due to the budget passed by Congress on February 9. That bill contains $20 billion for infrastructure spending spread evenly in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. On a floor speech as part of the vote, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer says the money will go towards “existing projects for water and energy infrastructure as well as expanding broadband to rural regions and improving surface transportation”.
Any broadband money that comes out of this funding will have to be spent quickly by the government. The fiscal year 2018 is already almost half over and ends on September 30 of this year. It’s likely that any grants coming out of such money would have to awarded before that September date to count as spending in this fiscal year. In order to move that fast I’m guessing the government is going to have to take shortcuts and use processes already in place. That probably means using the BTOP grant forms and processes again.
The short time frame for any of this funding also likely means that only ‘shovel-ready’ projects will be considered. But that aligns with statements made by the administration last year when talking about infrastructure projects. Anybody hoping to go after such grants better already have an engineered project in mind.
The good news is that many Minnesota communities are ready. To be shovel ready you need to have a plan. Often that means a feasibility study, a marketing study and engineering study. And Minnesota communities are in various stages of preparedness because these are the same tools that prepare a community for the Border to Border grants. It’s an unintended consequence – not only does the State funding help communities (worth noting that so far the Office of Broadband Development has awarded $85M to 112 projects with $110M match!) but we prepare our communities for other opportunities too.