Nov 10 2009: The United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) today announced they are streamlining the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s broadband grant and loan programs by awarding the remaining funding in just one more round, instead of two rounds, The first round of RUS’s Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) garnered $28bn worth of applications, and about $4bn is expected to be awarded in loans/grants. The agencies have issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking public comment on how the application process may be improved.
The RFI seeks input on ways to streamline the application process while still ensuring that the agencies obtain the information necessary to make awards in accordance with statutory requirements. The RFI also asks whether the agencies can better balance the public’s interest in transparency and openness with stakeholders’ legitimate interest in maintaining the confidentiality of proprietary data.
Among policy matters raised, the RFI seeks comment on how to best target the remaining funds to achieve the goals of the Recovery Act. Commenters proposing a more targeted approach are asked to quantify the impact of their proposal based on metrics such as the number of end users or community anchor institutions connecting to service, the number of new jobs created, and the projected increase in broadband adoption rates. The RFI asks whether to focus second round funding on projects that create “comprehensive communities” by installing high capacity middle mile facilities between anchor institutions that bring essential health, medical, and educational services to citizens. The RFI also invites input on various other issues, including whether the definition of “remote area,” which is used to determine grant eligibility under BIP, is too restrictive, how the agencies can best ensure that investments are cost effective, and ways the programs might impact regional economic development and stability.
RUS and NTIA will utilize the feedback received in response to the RFI to set the rules for the second funding round, which the agencies expect to announce through a Notice of Funds Availability early next year.