Stimulated! 7X Expected Volume for Broadband Funding Requests

More than seven times the expected application amount for broadband stimulus funding has flowed into the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS).

The two said Thursday that almost 2,200 applications were received, requesting about $28 billion in funding, in the first of three bidding rounds.

Applications came in by the Aug. 20 deadline from a diverse range of parties, including state, local, and tribal governments; nonprofits; industry; anchor institutions, such as libraries, universities, community colleges, and hospitals; public safety organizations; and other entities in rural, suburban, and urban areas.

Jonathan Adelstein, administrator for the RUS and former FCC commissioner, called the response “overwhelming.” “The big demand for loans as well as grants demonstrates that we can leverage private investment with USDA’s $2.5 billion to deliver the greatest bang for the taxpayers’ buck,” he said.

The agencies certainly have their work cut out for them to cut the wheat from the chaff. The two agencies only have about $7.2 billion in funds to distribute in total, with the express aim of expanding broadband access across the digital divide.

Here’s how the applications break down:

  • More than 260 applications were filed solely with NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), requesting more than $5.4 billion in grants to fund broadband infrastructure projects in unserved and underserved areas.
  • More than 400 applications were filed solely with RUS’s Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP), requesting nearly $5 billion in grants and loans for broadband infrastructure projects in rural areas.
  • More than 830 applications were filed with both NTIA’s BTOP and RUS’s BIP, requesting nearly $12.8 billion in infrastructure funding. (Applicants for infrastructure projects in rural areas must apply to BIP but were given the opportunity to jointly apply to BTOP in case RUS declines to fund their application).
  • More than 320 applications were filed with NTIA requesting nearly $2.5 billion in grants from BTOP for projects that promote sustainable demand for broadband services, including projects to provide broadband education, awareness, training, access, equipment or support, particularly among vulnerable population groups where broadband technology has traditionally been underutilized. The Recovery Act directs NTIA to make at least $250 million available for programs that encourage sustainable adoption of broadband services, of which up to $150 million is allocated in this first round of grants.
  • More than 360 applications were filed with NTIA requesting more than $1.9 billion in grants from BTOP for public computer center projects, which will expand access to broadband service and enhance broadband capacity at public libraries, community colleges, and other institutions that provide the benefits of broadband to the general public or specific vulnerable populations. (The Recovery Act directs NTIA to make at least $200 million available for expanding public computer center capacity, of which up to $50 million is allocated in this first round of grants.)

The demand was heralded as great news by some. Ben Scott, policy director at Free Press, issued the following statement: “We are excited to see such strong interest in the NTIA’s broadband grant program. This response to just the first round of grants demonstrates the substantial interest in bringing broadband to all Americans and increasing broadband adoption. As expected, the large incumbent telephone and cable companies do not appear to have applied. But the volume of applicants has discredited complaints that interest in this grant program would be hurt by the nature of a public service/private enterprise partnership. The NTIA can now settle into the task of dispensing infrastructure grants to the best applicants with the goal of maximizing the utility of our public service broadband networks. We congratulate NTIA on the strong interest in this program and their efforts to improve broadband access.”

NTIA will utilize $4.7 billion to deploy broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas in the United States, expand public computer center capacity, and encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service. RUS will invest $2.5 billion to facilitate broadband deployment in primarily rural communities. Approximately $2.4 billion from RUS and up to $1.6 billion from NTIA is available in this first grant round.

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