Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Broadband funding moves more slowly than hoped

Interest in the economic stimulus package's $7.2 billion for broadband was expected to be high, but the demand has turned out to be so overwhelming that government officials are struggling to meet the program's deadlines. The high demand, coupled with questions from large cable and phone companies such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable and AT&T, has "swamped the agencies in charge and created a bottleneck that might threaten disbursement," David Lieberman of USA Today reports.

After almost a year, only 7 percent of the funds has been assigned to specific projects. "There's significant doubt as to whether the monies can be awarded before the end of September," when the funding authorization expires, Dan Hays, who directs the communications practice at consulting firm PRTM, told Lieberman. Officials abandoned their original plan to assign $4 billion by the end of 2009, and now say "they're poised to hit as much as $2 billion when the first round ends this month, as they begin to consider applications to the second — and last — round up to March 15," Lieberman writes.

The two agencies with the money, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and USDA's Rural Utilities Service, maintain they will meet the Sept. 30 deadline for allocating it. Finding which places need broadband investment most has also proved difficult. "Because the United States has not taken [broadband needs] seriously until the Obama administration arrived, we don't know exactly how many people are unserved" or precisely where they are, RUS Administrator Jonathan Adelstein told Lieberman. (Read more)

Many of the grants are being made to map where broadband service exists. One example is a $2.1 million NTIA grant accounced today for mapping Kentucky, which was one of the first states to develop a comprehensive broadband map. "While the project fulfilled the requirements at the time, updates are necessary due to the ever-changing technology, growth of households and expansion of broadband providers," said a state press release. Meanwhile, people in the shadow of Pine Mountain in southeastern Kentucky complain about lack of broadband on Dial-Up Rocks, a blog hosted by Democracy in Action.

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