Year in Review 2010: Broadband stimulus awards didn't fall in favor of wireless broadband

In January, it was the talk of the industry. The U.S. government was poised to issue the bulk of the $7.2 billion in grants and loans to push affordable broadband services into the rural areas of the country. And wireless broadband was expected to be a shoo-in for the bulk of the awards.

The entire process, however, turned out to be a confusing and painful one. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, along with the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service, were inundated with applications. The applications were hundreds of pages long, key terms such as what constituted "underserved" and "unserved" broadband areas weren't fully defined and the U.S. government made award determinations despite the lack of mapping to indicate where broadband coverage was in the first place.

New rules for the second round of awards brought a bit more clarity by offering an opportunity for reconsideration of requests to provide viable applications with every change for funding. RUS also instituted a second application review process that would allow applicants to adjust their applications.

In the end, however, while the majority of stimulus applications were last-mile projects, more conservative fiber-based middle-mile projects became the favorite for funding. As such, significantly fewer than expected last-mile projects were granted awards--a big disappointment to many wireless applicants who painstakingly crafted very detailed and creative applications.