Dumbing down the broadband stimulus process

According to the blog StimulatingBroadband.com, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is in the process of mailing an estimated 1,400 rejection letters to those entities that applied for the first round of broadband stimulus funding. The NTIA is hoping to mail out the bulk of letters by Jan. 30, and the agency's aim is to make all award announcements by the end of February. To date, only 14 awards have been granted, and the majority are middle-mile projects.

Wow. That only gives those entities wanting to apply for the second round two weeks to firm up their applications before they are due on March 15. That's because the proposed service areas in the first round that won are ineligible for funding in the second round. To ease the problem, NTIA and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) plan to release an electronic map the identifies what geographic areas have been given grants or will soon be given grants. But Fred Campbell, president and CEO of the Wireless Communications Association International (WCAI), argues that such a map is of little use to applicants. In a letter to NTIA head Larry Strickling and RUS administrator Jonathan Adelstein, Campbell said the maps don't break out middle-mile and last-mile projects nor does it specify the number of applications pending for a given area or who they even are. He wants more information released to the public so applicants can make solid decisions.

Meanwhile, it appears that companies such as DigitalBridge, WindTalk and OpenRange--those with wireless last-mile applications that span several states--are likely to receive rejection letters. It's becoming evident that NTIA favors more simple projects that span just one community because they're easier to measure new subscriptions. Moreover, it appears fiber-based middle-mile projects are the favorite.

Both trends are a big disappointment to those who painstakingly crafted some pretty creative applications on the last-mile side. Middle-mile projects are the safe and conservative bet.

Daniel Hays, partner with PRTM, believes a reliance on middle-mile projects is a mistake. Most are designed to wire up major institutions and provide a cost-effective hub for last-mile connections. But will there be an incentive for last-mile providers to connect to them?

"The piece I have have found most disappointing is the decreased emphasis on last-mile projects, and that's a real big problem," Hays said. "Most of the applications in the first round were last mile. I question whether middle-mile projects are really going to satisfy the needs of those that are underserved by broadband. The middle-mile projects are going to take a long time to come to fruition themselves and even longer to deliver broadband."

In the first round, Robert Anderson, CEO of WindTalk, proposed to roll out WiMAX in 10 states. He's assuming his company wasn't granted any funding in the first round. For the second round, he plans to play up the middle mile by proposing to deploy Huawei gear that features a six-slot BTS and fiber backhaul so that the company can deploy both WiMAX and LTE to serve as an affiliate of sorts to help big operators like Sprint and AT&T extend mobile broadband services into areas that aren't economical for them to do so.

"We think we were cleaver but we may have gone too big," Anderson said. "The only way to survive is to become an affiliate."

Anderson also has interesting plans in the works to sell computer gear, 950 gigaflop supercomputers powered by its equipment that is, to schools. He's been in discussions with UMass Dartmouth Physics Professor Gaurav Khanna and UMass Dartmouth Principal Investigator Chris Poulin who have created a step-by-step guide to building a homemade supercomputer using a grid of Sony Playstation 3 processors.

Unfortunately, I think there are going to be many disillusioned applicants from the first round disappointed by the fact that the NTIA and RUS can't see the forsight in any complex and creative applications because they don't have the time nor resources. It's just too scary. Apparently everyone needs to dumb down their applications in the next round.--Lynnette

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