$4 billion in broadband stimulus funding available for the asking, with more on the way

On July 1 the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the Department of Agriculture released their initial “Notice of Funds Availability” (NOFA) with respect to two broadband-related programs funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – what many have dubbed simply the Stimulus Package.  Applications for funding in this first round will be accepted from July 14, 2009 at 8:00 a.m. (ET) until August 14, 2009 at 5:00 p.m.   

In other words, the teller’s window is about to open, the “Free Money – Come and Get It” sign is about to go up, and the line is getting ready to form. So come on down, but first be sure to familiarize yourself with the separate and distinct programs through which funds are being made available, the various eligibility requirements associated with each program, the conditions, limitations, expections, etc. germane to each, and the extensive application requirements. All this and more is contained in the 121-page NOFA.    

If you want to be first in the door, you should start reading the NOFA right away: the complex and detailed directions are, at least at first glance, daunting.

But the potential reward is not to be scoffed at.  In all, NTIA/RUS have been allotted a cool $7.2 billion to hand out “to expand access to broadband services”. Of that, $2.5 billion is earmarked for projects where at least 75% of the affected area is in a “rural area” that lacks “sufficient access” to “high speed broadband service” to “facilitate rural economic development”. RUS will be exclusively responsible for dispensing that particular trove. The remaining $4.7 billion has been appropriated to NTIA for broadband initiatives that will “spur job creation, stimulate long-term economic growth and opportunity, and narrow gaps in broadband deployment and adoption”. 

As of right now, a mere $4 billion is on the table. (The remaining $3.2 billion will be addressed in future NOFAs.)

For its part, RUS has established the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas. On the other hand, NTIA has come up with the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). BTOP funds will be used to: deploy broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas; enhance broadband capacity at public computer centers (e.g., schools, community centers, libraries, and other places that provide broadband access to the general public or “a specific vulnerable population”); and promote sustainable broadband adoption projects.

Both programs are widely open to most everybody, but the application process is clearly designed to discourage all but the most seriously interested, highly motivated, and detail-oriented among us. (The complete application package will be available at http://www.broadbandusa.gov; you can also find additional information about BIP and BTOP there.)

If you have any questions about – or would like any help jumping into –  the application process, feel free to contact Don Evans (evans@fhhlaw.com) or Paul Feldman (feldman@fhhlaw.com) here at Fletcher Heald & Hildreth.