Broadband stimulus awards delayed

The federal agencies in charge of doling out $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money are delaying the awards for the first round to December due to the unwieldy number of applications.

"We're going to take a few more weeks here to get this right. We absolutely understand the need to get the dollars out," said Larry Strickling, head of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, at a Senate oversight hearing.

Winners were supposed to be announced in November. However, nearly 2,200 bidders have applied for almost $28 billion in broadband stimulus money from both the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) and the Department of Agriculture's RUS fund. That is nearly seven times the $4 billion available for the program in this first round.

During the Senate oversight earlier this week, Senators expressed their concern over how the program is being run.

"I believe that to be fair to applicants, we need to find a way to simplify the process going forward," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va). He voiced his concern that applicants were asked for too much information and that small companies serving rural areas in his state of West Virginia and others did not apply for funds because they found the application process to complex and costly.

NTIA and the Agriculture Department have said they'll make changes to the application process in the next round. As a result, the next application deadline will likely be be delayed to allow more rural areas to become eligible for funding.

Adding more concern to the program was the Government Accountability Office, which indicated it has a number of problems with the award process. One major concern it cited was the ability of NTIA and the Department of Agriculture to process a large number of applications by the September 2010 deadline. The GAO also cites inadequate plans for monitoring the projects past 2010.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

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