Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Minnesota municipalities don't like broadband stimulus rules

The Minneapolis StarTribune.com reports Minnesota municipalities are having second thoughts about applying for some of the $7.2 billion in taxpayer subsidized grants and loans allocated in the federal economic stimulus package for broadband infrastructure construction.

The reason is the 121 pages of guidelines issued July 1 by the two federal agencies that will review and determine which projects get funded require applicants to conduct door to door censuses of their proposed project areas to determine if the census blocks contained in their contemplated project areas qualify for funding under the rules' definitions of what constitutes an unserved or underserved census block. Skipping this step could jeopardize a project since it could be rejected outright by the agencies for lack of required documentation of need or challenged by incumbent providers as permitted under the guidelines.

An excerpt from the article:

The problem, as city and county broadband planners see it, has less to do with technology than with the sheer legwork required to create an acceptable proposal.

Applicants must prove that all the areas they propose to serve would meet a narrow federal definition of being underserved -- that 50 percent or more households in the area lack broadband access, or that fewer than 40 percent of the households already subscribe to broadband. That puts the burden on cities and counties to undertake expensive and time-consuming door-to-door surveys, because telephone and cable companies don't reveal which areas they serve.

The Minnesota munis' concerns are understandable. They don't see themselves as being in the census business. Conducting a door to door survey is a costly and time consuming task that means many prospective applicants have concluded there's no way they can submit project applications to the agencies by the Aug. 14 deadline for the first round of funding.
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