March 18, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
Stimulus money set aside for broadband will flow to local governments during three funding windows occurring between April 2009 and June 2010, say officials from the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS). Both agencies will distribute the $7.2 billion for broadband in President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The first opportunity to submit stimulus broadband applications will run from April 2009 to June 2009. Craig Settles, a municipal broadband analyst, said that opening will feature stiff competition from governments that already have municipal broadband plans that got shelved after the municipal Wi-Fi craze imploded.
"The thinking these communities have done is the kind of thinking many others need to do before the federal government hands them a check -- things such as, 'What do we really need? What are we trying to build this network to do? Are we the last mile or the middle mile? Where do we fit? How are we going to sustain this network in the future?'" Settles said.
For governments that's don't have broadband plans on the books yet, Settles recommends they study governments that do in order to develop their own business strategies, and then try for the money during the latter two funding periods from October 2009 to December 2009 and April 2010 to June 2010.
Settles believes a nonprofit called OpenCape, which represents several communities aiming to bring broadband to the Cape Cod peninsula of Massachusetts, will win some of the stimulus upfront. One of OpenCape's strategies for financially sustaining the network involves expanding the work of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to include research activities requiring broadband connectivity. Once it deploys the network, the WHOI plans to apply for a $100 million grant that in the past the organization has been ineligible for because it lacked broadband. Part of the grant money would help sustain the network for the cape, according to the WHOI.
The NTIA is disbursing $4.2 billion of the broadband stimulus for urban and rural projects. The RUS will distribute the remaining $2.5 billion for rural broadband projects only.