WiMAX, fiber dominate first round of broadband stimulus applications

Earlier this month, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), one of the government agencies in charge of handing out a large chunk of the total $7.2 billion in stimulus money, announced that nearly 2,200 entities applied for nearly $28 billion in money from both the NTIA and the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS). That number is almost seven times the $4 billion available for the program in the first round. The details of the applicants are now available on www.broadbandusa.gov.

But a generous FBW reader, Tim Sylvester, CEO of Avanzar Networks, a startup WiMAX ISP in Santa Cruz, Calif., that is also vying for stimulus money, did some analysis for me based on the 400-word descriptions released on each application. He put that unwieldy information into a spreadsheet and we in turn created a list and broke down the last-mile applications by technology on our site (a special thanks to FierceWireless Managing Editor Mike Dano for that). You can access that here.

Sylvester determined that WiMAX and fiber were the big winners when it came to last-mile access applications. There are 307 WiMAX applications requesting some $1.6 billion in funds and 181 fiber applications asking for $3.7 billion. In all, 1,130 last-mile applications are requesting a total of $14.2 billion. Interestingly, there's just one applicant spelling out plans for LTE. Applicant Agri-Valley Communications is proposing to provide LTE services to parts of Michigan using the 700 MHz band.

According to Sylvester, the largest grant application was submitted by RADGOV, requesting a whopping $983 million for public computer centers. That's 13 percent of the total $7.2 billion available in funds. Ironically, the total amount allocated to public computer center projects in this first round is just $50 million.

Perusing through some of the descriptions, here are some of the more interesting ones I came across:

  • Through a joint venture between WildBlue Communications and EchoStar Broadband, EchoBlue Rural Broadband LLC want to deploy affordably priced satellite broadband service to rural citizens. The two said EchoBlue's project is the most cost-effective way to deliver 10Mbps broadband service to more than 1.5 million consumers within the contiguous 48 states. The duo is asking for a total of $530 million in grants and loans.
  • Aircell, which is developing air-to-ground broadband services to offer inflight WiFi, described its last mile application as "enhanced inflight broadband communications for public safety." It's asking for $65.3 million to improve public safety and consumer access to inflight Internet service in what it calls the "largely unserved U.S. airspace...  Expanding Aircell's broadband system will allow inflight Internet service to be more widely available for national security agencies and accelerate adoption by U.S. airlines and millions of domestic passengers."
  • An outfit in Herndon, Va., called SeniorNet submitted an application for sustainable broadband adoption asking for $30.5 million "to build upon our successful model of older adults teaching other older adults, create demand for and comfort with broadband, and make it easy to get online."
  • The city of Atlanta had some interesting logic in asking for $13.8 million in its public computer center application to build a public-safety video surveillance system. Its description reads: "Atlanta will build an 82 sq mile broadband video surveillance network to achieve a 10% crime reduction. The system will integrate with Homeland Security, government agencies, and private businesses. The project will advance broadband adoption into underserved areas without fiber installed. Without this project, there would be no economic reason for any broadband vendor to do so in these areas."

The creativity goes on and on.--Lynnette