Broadband Stimulus Requests Top $28B, Outweigh Funds

More than 2,200 parties have submitted applications seeking nearly $28 billion in government stimulus funding for broadband projects — far outstripping the money available.

The deluge of requests mark only the first wave of funding in the government stimulus program. The February economic stimulus bill allocated $7.2 billion for broadband in the U.S., with the administering agencies making $4 billion available in the first tranche.

Now, the agencies overseeing the process must begin wading through the applications. The statute requires the agencies to award the first round of funding by Sept. 30.

“Applicants requested nearly seven times the amount of funding available, which demonstrates the substantial interest in expanding broadband across the nation,” Lawrence Strickling, administrator of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), said in a statement. Strickling, whose organization is working with the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to oversee the programs, said the agencies would “move quickly but carefully to fund the best projects.”

The stimulus programs make funding available through a combination of grants, loans and loan-grant hybrids.

The first wave of applicants offered a combined $10.5 billion in matching funds, making for a total of more than $38 billion on the table for proposed broadband projects, according to the agencies’ initial analysis.

Applications rolled in for an array of improvements targeting various aspects of the nation’s routinely criticized broadband infrastructure, including rural deployments and proposals to bring high-speed Internet access to communities’ anchor institutions, as well as projects to support public computing facilities and spur broadband adoption.

But the ambitious broadband stimulus program opened without the participation of the biggest ISPs, in part because of the conditions that are attached to the funding, such as the reporting and compliance requirements and a provision mandating Net neutrality, a principle big cable and telecom companies have been fighting for years.

Each of the four largest ISPs have told that they are unlikely to participate in the broadband stimulus program if the current conditions remain in subsequent rounds of funding.

The first tranche of stimulus funding carries a preference for projects that would deliver broadband access to rural parts of the country. Those regions have been left out owing to the unfriendly economics of delivering high-speed access to geographically vast areas to serve a relatively small number of potential subscribers.

RUS is making $2.4 billion of its $2.5 billion allocation available in the first round of funding. The agency said that parties submitted more than 400 applications solely to its Broadband Initiatives Program, requesting nearly $5 billion in funding. More than 830 applications were filed jointly with RUS’s BIP and NTIA’s companion program, the Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program.

The applications guidelines directed that any proposal for a rural deployment be submitted to RUS, but offered applicants the chance to submit applications to both agencies, giving RUS the right of first refusal.

NTIA and RUS said they plan to create a searchable online database for the public to review the applications.

The agencies received applications for projects in every U.S. state and territory and the District of Columbia.

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