Big telcos may still influence broadband stimulus bonanza

Some expected there would be tepid interest in the broadband stimulus funds doled out by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Agriculture, given the apathy expressed by the country's major broadband providers. Instead, both agencies saw nearly 2,200 bidders asking for almost $28 billion in funds. That is nearly seven times the $4 billion that is available for the programs in the first round.

Craig Settles, head of and a guru on the entire application process, said it does indeed appear that the applications are a fair representation of local, community-driven projects--a key factor he has always believed would drive the success of any broadband deployments in underserved areas. After all, they know what their own communities need. He finds that a bit amazing given the fact that the rules were geared toward larger telecom providers. For instance, the applications asked entities applying for funds to state their revenue and profits, but many of those applicants are nonprofits.

NTIA said applications came in from a diverse range of parties including state, local and tribal governments; nonprofits; industry; anchor institutions such as libraries, universities, community colleges and hospitals; public safety organizations; and other entities in rural, suburban and urban areas.

While a number of major telecom operators supposedly sat out this round, presumably upset over the net neutrality strings attached, they still may have a hand in the outcome. They have negotiated an agreement with the NTIA and the Department of Agriculture that will allow them to challenge projects by declaring they already serve those areas under consideration. Of course, they have to prove their claims, but without accurate mapping, their assertions might be difficult to disprove.

According to an article this weekend in The Hill, a really accurate map depicting broadband availability might not come to fruition until about half of the broadband stimulus money is gone. That's because some of the broadband stimulus money is going toward better mapping. Of course, the lack of accurate mapping brings up another argument--that broadband access might not be deployed in the most needy of places if we don't know where it really is in the first place. But I digress.

"Hopefully, with the extensive number of applicants, there will be more pressure to negate the clause for incumbents to challenge proposals," Settles said. "It's hard to challenge the state of Maryland or Pennsylvania, for instance, if the government's office and state structure is behind a number of these proposals."

We shall soon see. --Lynnette