Broadband Stimulus: Awards Wont Happen in November

Well, scratch that. The first round of broadband stimulus funds won’t be awarded in November after all. Instead, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) have pushed the date out to some time in December.

That means the millions of federal dollars, intended to jumpstart the economy, won’t actually hit the system until February 2010 at the earliest.

The news came this week at a Senate subcommittee oversight hearing. Larry Strickling, head of the NTIA, told frustrated lawmakers during a question-and-answer session that grant and loan recipients won’t be named for a while.

“We’re going to take a few more weeks here to get this right,” Strickling said, according to multiple reports. “I will not fund a bad application.”

The admission drew even more ire from senators, many of whom have criticized the broadband stimulus program for operating on so many rules that the country’s largest ISPs refused to apply for funds.

Elected officials aren’t the only people questioning the progress of the broadband stimulus.

On Oct. 27, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that, among other items, questions the ability of the NTIA and RUS to hand out the $7.2 billion in funds by the deadline, Sept. 30 of next year. Much of the holdup comes down to the agencies’ “scheduling, staffing, and data challenges in evaluating applications and awarding funds,” the GAO noted in its report.

NTIA and RUS are relying heavily on volunteers and third-party contractors to cull through the stimulus applications, but the additional help doesn’t seem to be making much of a dent.

The biggest problem, GAO staffers wrote, is that the not-so-far-away deadline “may pose risks to the thoroughness of the application evaluation process.”

“In particular, the agencies may lack time to apply lessons learned from the first funding round and to thoroughly evaluate applications for the remaining rounds,” the report stated.

GAO did not make any recommendations for improvement in the recent study, but said it will do so in its next filing in November.

Similarly, subcommittee members have scheduled no further hearings on the broadband stimulus through December.

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