NTIA grant delay: Obstacle or opportunity?

A couple of weeks ago the NTIA posted its schedule for broadband grant stimulus disbursement. Within hours, probably a few dozen service providers and a supporting cast of communication product vendors sent out for cases of Pepto Bismol.

Though sparse in words, the schedule's impact is huge. Led to believe in March by NTIA/RUS that grant money would start flowing by this month, everyone has to face the stark reality that funds aren't coming from D.C. until December. For providers and vendors, this could be a serious body blow to your cash flow hopes, or the challenge that puts you on the map. It's all how you play the hand that's been dealt.

The challenges

First, some communities and private sector partners had been planning networks for months before the stimulus bill passed. They saw the original April-June funding window as their stellar opportunity to tweak plans to shovel readiness, hit the tables first, win a bunch of chips and be off on a network-building bonanza. Smaller providers saw the stimulus as salvation from a crapped out economy and were moving to capitalize on the opportunity.

Well, kiss the quick payday goodbye. A December grant payout (assuming you win) means states north of the Mason-Dixon and east of the Rockies aren't doing any groundbreaking on projects until said ground thaws--say March, April. Even in the Sunbelt and the Wild West, there are the added weeks for paperwork processing and other bureaucratic craziness.

Second, local governments are twice stymied. If they had applied for a grant in June and lost, at least they'd have the opportunity to put the project into their 2010 budgets or secure other funding to start projects before winter. Now, if they don't win a grant, they'll find out too late to add anything to the budget. And if they add a line item or find other funding before winter, they won't be eligible for stimulus grants since the rules say you only get money if the network can't be funded any other way.

While some folks may be wringing their hands, I view this turn of events as welcome splash of cold water to open people's eyes.

Possible courses of action

I have to echo the sentiment of Robert Bell, a co-founder of Intelligent Community Forum who believes that any community waiting for someone to come by to hand them a big check is waiting for a train that may never come. Rely first on yourself and a strong business plan, then take advantage of any good luck (i.e. stimulus money) that comes your way. This is true as well of private sector organizations...Continued

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