Government officials offer some insight on broadband grants

Representatives from the FCC, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) offered some advice to those looking to cash in on the some $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money during a packed meeting at the Department of Commerce office in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.

The officials were scant on details but said they would release more specific information after reviewing suggestions, but did give some insight about how the money would be distributed.

According to the government officials, one of the primary determinants as to how federal money will be granted is the requirement in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which calls for the government to approve at least one grant in each state and some U.S. territories. However, the money won't be distributed across the states in equal amounts.

In addition, the USDA, through its Rural Utilities Service division, plans to use some portion of its budget toward securing loans for additional funding. "So we're hoping that we will be able to leverage those resources to deliver substantially more than the $2 billion that we have been given by the president," said David Villano, the USDA's assistant administrator for communications. 

Other issues that came to light in the meeting:

  • Applicants can apply to both the USDA and NTIA separately for different parts of the same project, but can't get paid twice for the same parts.
  • USDA grants require 75% of the area served by an approved project to be a "rural" area without sufficient broadband. The NTIA, will address both "unserved" and "underserved" areas, though the government hasn't yet defined those terms and is seeking public comment on the process.
  • All broadband stimulus grants and loans must be awarded by September 2010, and the projects funded must be "substantially complete" within two years.
  • NTIA will award the grants in three phases, mostly to balance the need to get funding quickly to projects that are ready to go and to allow more grant-writing time for those who need it.
  • During its April 8 meeting, the FCC will initiate a public comment process for developing a national broadband strategy by May 22.

For more:
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