WASHINGTON, November 10, 2009 - The two government entities charged with distributing $7.2 billion to expand broadband deployment and adoption said Tuesday they are officially seeking public feedback on how to effectively get the funds to the applicants who should be receiving them.
The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service were assigned by Congress in January to administer the program but no awardees have yet to be named.
On Tuesday RUS and NTIA said they planned to award the funding in just two rounds to increase efficiency and better accommodate applicants.
A statement from the agencies noted that the first round of the grant and loan programs produced about 2,200 applications requesting nearly $28 billion in funding, which is almost seven times the amount of funding available at this time.
Though NTIA originally intended to start announcing grant recipients in November, Larry Strickling, head of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said in late October that the program has been falling behind.
Currently, the agencies do not anticipate announcing the first broadband stimulus grants until at least mid-December but will then announce more awardees on a rolling basis, according to an agency spokeswoman. The agencies expect to award up to $4 billion in loans and grants in this round. The agencies will distribute the remaining funds in a second round of funding they plan to announce early next year.
In Tuesday’s official request for information, the agencies said they are seeking feedback during a 15 day comment period on procedural and policy aspects of the programs including ways to streamline the application process and best address privacy issues. The government is also looking for advice on how to target the remaining funds.
“What level of data collection and documentation should be required of applicants to establish the boundaries of the proposed funded service areas?” the agencies ask.
They want to know: “Are there situations where it is better to give a loan to an applicant as opposed to a grant ... Should we give priority to those middle mile projects in which there are commitments from last mile service providers to use the middle mile network to serve end users in the community?”
Jonathan Adelstein, administrator of RUS said, “We are listening to applicants, reviewing applications received, and all indications suggest a need to revisit the application process. We will consider changes in the next NOFA to make the process more ‘applicant friendly’ from beginning to end.”
Once a grant recipient is named, the agency plans to complete all the required paperwork and deliver the funds within 60 days of the announcement, according to a July notice in the Federal Register.
The official Federal Register notice is available here.
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