Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Memo to RUS and NTIA: Proposed revisions for broadband stimulus funding rules

The two agencies administering rules governing the disbursement of $7.2 billion of grants and loans for allocated for broadband infrastructure construction in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- the Rural Utilities Service and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration -- should revise the guidelines as follows:

1. Liberalize the rules to encourage consumer telecom cooperatives, recession ravaged local governments and small local fiber providers to propose projects. While the guidelines for the first round of applications issued July 1 allow up to five percent of application preparation costs (e.g. infrastructure engineering, development of minimum 5-year business plan) to be awarded in grants and/or loans, only projects accepted for funding can get these substantial costs credited back. This creates sizable up front risk and funding hurdles that discourage infrastructure builds by non-incumbent entities and providers. Revise the guidelines to include loan guarantees for engineering and business planning for projects that demonstrate good faith, diligent planning work. Doing so will encourage more projects and also help weed out those that seem like a good idea but won't pencil out.

2. Don't require non incumbent providers to be census takers and go door or door to document the level of broadband availability and adoption in census blocks comprising their proposed projects. That's a job for the Census Bureau and introduces cost and delay that are contrary to the stimulus funding goal of rapid deployment of broadband infrastructure.

3. Lose the broadband black hole preservation provision in the current rules that allows incumbent providers to challenge proposed projects. Also trash a provision in the definition of "underserved" areas deeming these areas as such if no wireless provider merely advertises service with at least 3MBs download connectivity. Both of these provisions will only introduce delay and may lead to litigation that's at cross purposes with the speedy build out of broadband infrastructure.

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