News

ARRA EXPANSION OF BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE

Nancy C. Cobb

Nancy C. Cobb

By now, I hope that you are aware that through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, $7.2 billion has been allocated for the expansion of broadband infrastructure and related programs. As with OneGeorgia’s BRIDGE Fund, the Act does require the local community or applicant to raise 20% of funding to match 80% of project funding from NTIA. Please note that OneGeorgia’s BRIDGE Fund currently has funds available and could potentially provide a portion of that 20% match. Even though the specific details, forms and administrative procedures for securing funding have not been finalized, the need from you must be articulated quickly.

The Georgia Technology Authority will coordinate the state’s requests for broadband funds. I will serve as a co-chair in assisting the state to prioritize broadband funding requests.

IMPORTANT: We must standardize our approach to project requests to streamline our response to the federal government. We are asking that Round One stimulus projects be registered online at www.georgiabroadband.net by May 1, 2009. Projects may be edited and updated at any time. Your project can only be viewed in a summarized format by the general public.

We understand that the federal government contemplates awarding funds over three rounds. We encourage any party considering applying for stimulus funds to register as quickly as possible. We also emphasize the importance of focusing on high impact, clearly defined, long term sustainable projects that can reasonably be completed in twelve to twenty-four months.

For those who are not able to submit a clearly defined project in this short of a time frame, you may wish to begin preparations or studies in the near future with a target of participating in future rounds of funding. While dates for those rounds are currently undefined, we believe any stimulus participants in the future rounds should scope their projects as quickly as possible and adhere to all published guidelines and requirements.

Our initial focus is to build an inventory and an understanding of the projects that might be eligible for stimulus funds. Please continue to check the site for updates as the federal rules and regulations are posted. Through our collaborative efforts we will help secure Georgia’s future quality of life and economic development.

Below is additional information that might be of help to you in determining how and when to apply.

Please contact OneGeorgia with your questions and concerns as to how this may affect your communities, and as we learn the details involved we will pass the information along to you. And as always, please continue to refer to our website, www.onegeorgia.org, for full details of each of our programs along with applications for each. We look forward to hearing from you in the near future, Good luck!!

Nancy C. Cobb, CEcD Executive Director

  1. Allocation of Funds: The $7.2 billion for broadband will be divided between the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (“RUS”). NTIA will receive $4.7 billion for its Technology Opportunities Program, and RUS will receive $2.5 billion for broadband loan and grant programs. The $4.7 billion to be distributed through NTIA includes:
    • $200 million for grants to expand access to public computers at institutions such as colleges and public libraries.
    • $250 million for programs that “encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service.”
    • $350 million for nationwide broadband mapping. Some of this money may be transferred to the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) for it to develop a national broadband plan or otherwise fulfill its responsibilities under this Act.
    • $10 million for audits and oversight.

    NTIA will receive an additional $650 million for continuing DTV transition outreach and converter box coupons. Some of these funds may also be transferred to the FCC in order to assist in these efforts.

    The $2.5 billion to be distributed through RUS includes funding for loans, grants and grant guarantees. Priorities for RUS funding include:
    • Broadband projects which will “deliver end users a choice of more than one service provider” in underserved areas.
    • Broadband projects that will provide service to the highest proportion of residents in unserved areas.
    • Applicants who are borrowers or former borrowers under the Rural Electrification Act of 1936.
    • Applicants who demonstrate that their projects will be fully funded and can be completed with federal funding.
    • Projects that can begin promptly upon approval.
    In order to ensure there are no overlapping disbursements, no part of a RUS funded project may also receive funding under any NTIA program, and vice versa.
  2. Summary of NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program
    1. Program Creation and Purpose(s) NTIA’s Assistant Secretary will work with the FCC to establish a national broadband service development and expansion program. NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program is designed to serve several purposes including:
      • providing access to broadband to all unserved areas and improved access in underserved areas of the United States;
      • providing broadband education (awareness, training, access, equipment, etc.) to schools, higher education institutions, libraries, healthcare providers, organizations and agencies that provide outreach, access and education, to low-income, unemployed and elderly consumers;
      • improving access to and use of broadband by public safety agencies; and
      • increasing the demand for broadband, economic growth and job creation.
      The Assistant Secretary is to establish and implement grant programs as quickly as possible, and to make grants no later then September 30, 2010. NTIA may consult with States in order to identify unserved and underserved areas that would benefit from grant funds. The Assistant Secretary must obtain assurances from grantees that all projects will be substantially completed in accordance with their respective deadlines – not to exceed two years following an award – and grantees must file a report every ninety days on the status of such programs. Reports are to be filed with the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations, the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation.
    2. Eligibility for Grants and Application Requirements An applicant may be a State (or political subdivision), the District of Columbia, a territory, a municipality., an Indian Tribe or a native Hawaiian organization, a nonprofit, a corporation, an institution or association, or any other entity the Assistant Secretary finds (by rule) to be in the public interest.

      Applicants must (i) provide a detailed explanation of how any funds received will be used, (ii) prove that such funds will be used in an efficient and expeditious manner, (iii) show how such a project would not have been possible to implement without such federal grant, (iv) demonstrate they are capable of carrying out the project in accordance with applicable federal, state and local laws, (v) disclose amounts and source of any other federal or state funding it receives or has applied for, and (vi) provide any assurances and follow any procedures that the Assistant Secretary may require in order to ensure grant funds are used accordingly.

      Importantly, applicants must also demonstrate that they can raise 20% of funding for a project from other sources to match 80% of project funding from NTIA. In some circumstances, however, this requirement may be waived based upon the demonstration of financial need.
    3. Use of Grants Grants may be used to (i) purchase equipment, instruments, hardware and software for broadband services, (ii) construct and deploy broadband networks, (iii) ensure access to broadband service by community anchor institutions, (iv) ensure that low-income, unemployed and elderly consumers have access to broadband for educational and employment opportunities, (iv) construct and deploy broadband facilities that improve public safety communications, and (v) undertake any other projects found to be consistent with the purpose of the program.
    4. Awarding of Grants and Post-Grant Obligations To the extent possible, NTIA should award at least one grant to each state. NTIA will consider if such approval will increase affordability and subscribership to broadband in the area at the greatest speed possible, if it will enhance health care delivery or education, if it will result in unjust enrichment and whether the applicant is a socially or economically disadvantaged small business. Any entity that receives a grant will be required to file quarterly reports (available to the public) on the use of such grants. NTIA may impose additional reporting requirements on recipients at any time in the future. Any entity whose performance is insufficient, or who engages in wasteful or fraudulent spending of the grant, will lose their award.
    5. Other NTIA Requirements The Assistant Secretary will establish “appropriate mechanisms” to ensure appropriate use of and compliance in connection with the grants. Additionally, it must create and maintain a fully searchable Internet database that will be free to the public. This database will contain a description of each applicant, their application status, which applicants receive funds, what they are receiving funds for, their quarterly reports and any other pertinent information.

      Within one year after the Act’s enactment, NTIA must submit a status report (with improvement suggestions) to both the Committee on Energy & Commerce of the House, and the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation of the Senate.

      Within two years after the Act’s enactment, NTIA is to develop and maintain a nationwide inventory map of existing broadband service capability and availability in the U.S., and make it available on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s website in an interactive, searchable form.
    6. Tagged: stimulus, onegeorgia, broadband, bridge