WASHINGTON, August 12, 2009 – With just two days away from the deadline to apply for federal funds to cultivate broadband projects across the nation, telecommunications experts offered their advice on the future of the grants process.
Casey Lide, an attorney with the Baller Herbst Law Group, said during the webinar hosted by Governing.com that he believes there will be two more rounds of funding for these types of projects although acknowledged that a third round isn’t guaranteed.
Lide expects future rounds may not focus as intently on getting broadband to the unserved and underserved parts of the country, as the first round has done.
“There was quite a lot of surprise and disappointment [about that focus] among the local government community,” he said. “There was a perception that…the program focused too much on the unserved and underserved” at the expense of other, innovative high-bandwidth projects.
He sees the first round of funding as an attempt to create a “thin skinned layer of broadband in rural areas of the country.”
Lide said local folks are hoping that the next rounds will be “more friendly” to local governments and municipalities.
Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs Jeff Arnold, who works for the National Association of Counties, said counties want broadband even if it’s not the fastest broadband available. “When you have nothing, even 768 Kbps [kilobits per second] is good,” he said, referring to the minimum requirement for how speedy the new broadband projects must be able to deliver data downstream.
“The biggest issue for rural America is [they] want it but need to be able to drive its adoption,” he said, adding that broadband suppliers have to be convinced to serve these areas.
Brad Ramsay, the general counsel for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, said California and other states have been recommending that applicants file early this week because of concern over the ability of the Web site taking applications to handle them all.
“One person was telling me that the Web site was already abysmally slow as of Monday,” he said.
For other people, it’s a problem that may never even come to fruition. Ramsay noted that applications requesting $1 million or more must be filed electronically. However, counties that don’t have broadband aren’t able to file the complicated, lengthy document online and so scrapped plans to take part in the process.
“It’s the ultimate irony of ironies,” he said.