Four tips for companies applying for broadband stimulus funds

The current segment of the broadband stimulus dash for dollars has a little over three weeks left, followed by the whirlwind review and approval process for the hundreds of proposals that cross the finish line. During this period we may get to see an interesting throw down between two classes within the broadband world.            

One class is made up of huge telcos and cable companies such as AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner. The incumbents are the domineering class that many feel is responsible in large part for the sorry state of U.S. broadband. The other class is the mid-size and small telcos, fiber network providers and wireless Internet service providers with some public utilities included to add spice. This is the underdog class.

Watching California cultivate many of its underdog providers, you'd expect these players to do well by the stimulus. The biggest providers won't come to the table. Net neutrality, open access, government reporting. Ewww! The little guys, they scoff at the state's broadband requirement of 1 Mbps symmetrical service as being too wimpy. They want to do better.   

Unfortunately, from a national perspective the underdogs face an uphill battle. The incumbents may not chase stimulus dollars. But they, their allies and the painfully arcane workings of federal government, are going to make it tough for the underdogs to win, often in subtle ways. Here are some ways to try to even things up a bit. 

1. Volunteer to be a panel participant

While I think it's deplorable to not pay panel participants who heavily influence which proposals pass the first review process--this is a jobs creation bill after all--you should at least help get competent folks involved. Several people from smaller providers and vendors who have experience planning and building broadband networks recently said they're going to volunteer. Cool. Get two or three of your friends to volunteer with you.

An unintended consequence of the stimulus bill is that local governments froze network and other tech projects that in turn froze the tech supply chain, which resulted in layoffs at the some of the smaller providers. Though it's not a paying gig, better to have these people with experience be part of the review process to assess the innovativeness NTIA/RUS says they want to see in proposals.   

2. Intensify partnership efforts

Maximize the strength of your proposal. The grant application favors partnerships with various local stakeholders. The more of these you can document, the better shot you have. Furthermore, if your state's powers-that-be actually understand broadband, you want them on your side when the governor's office is reviewing and making suggestions about the priority National Telecommunications and Information Administration/Rural Utilities Service (NTIA/RUS) gives to applications before finally awarding money.

All the way up your state's political food chain, and beyond the Aug. 14 filing deadline, continually strengthen alliances. Don't think for a minute some incumbent...Continued

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