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Agencies Prepare for Launch of Second Funding Round in Broadband Economic Stimulus Programs

November 18, 2009

On November 9, 2009, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Rural Utilities Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (RUS) released their second joint Request for Information (RFI) on the implementation of the broadband service-related economic stimulus programs established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The RFI requests comment on proposed modifications to ARRA's Broadband Initiatives  Program (administered by RUS) and Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (administered by NTIA) intended to strengthen the impact of these Programs in achieving ARRA objectives, and to improve the experience of Program applicants. The agencies plan to effect any modifications to these Programs through their second joint Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA), to be released in early 2010.  Importantly, the agencies also confirmed that the second funding round will constitute the FINAL disbursement of funds under ARRA's broadband-related economic stimulus programs. The statute mandates that NTIA and RUS complete all funding awards no later than September 30, 2010.

The initial NOFA released jointly by NTIA and RUS, and published in the Federal Register on July 9, 2009, allocated up to $4 billion of the total ARRA funds dedicated to the broadband-related economic stimulus programs, to include certain Broadband Infrastructure projects, Public Computer Center projects, and Sustainable Broadband Adoption projects. Furthermore, the initial joint NOFA set forth definitions of essential Program terms, established basic eligibility requirements and evaluation criteria, and provided additional information to prospective funding applicants. The application filing window for the initial funding round ended on August 20, 2009, and the agencies anticipate that funding awards will be announced beginning in December 2009.  In response to the initial joint NOFA, NTIA and RUS collectively received over 2,220 applications, requesting nearly $28 billion in ARRA Program funding, for broadband-related projects reaching all 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia.

The RFI seeks targeted feedback on specific procedural and policy aspects of the agencies' initial joint NOFA.  With regard to the application process used during the first funding round, the RFI solicits comment on: streamlining applicant information requirements, balancing the needs of public access to information with the protection of confidential and proprietary data; providing the appropriate level of public outreach and technical support; and evaluating applications through the use of unpaid expert reviewers. The RFI also includes substantive inquiries regarding: whether the NOFA should establish more targeted funding priorities and objectives; whether certain definitions of critical terms, including "unserved," "underserved," "broadband," and "remote area," should be modified; whether existing broadband service providers should be permitted to comment on an applicant's assertion that any proposed geographic area is "unserved" or "underserved"; whether the interconnection and non-discrimination obligations prescribed under ARRA should be applied to all types of projects, technologies, and entities; whether existing limitations on the sale or lease of Program-funded broadband facilities should be relaxed; and what evaluation criteria should be used to determine the "cost reasonableness" or "cost effectiveness" of any proposed project.

The deadline for filing comments responding to the RFI is November 30, 2009. Please feel to contact us if you have any questions, or if we can assist you in any way with your submission.