SAN JOSE, Calif. The first chunk of U.S. government stimulus funds for broadband networks is bigger than expected, but companies have less time than they thought to apply for it.
Vendors have until August 14 to submit proposals for a total of about $4 billion in grants and loans described in a 121-page Notice of Funds Availability document posted late Thursday (July 2). "It was my weekend reading," said Paul Sinderbrand, an attorney tracking the process Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP (Washington D.C.), a telecom law firm.
Ultimately a total of about $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funds will come from two agencies. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) controls about $4.7 billion and about $2.5 billion comes from the Rural Utility Service (RUS), an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The agencies were expected to release about a third of their funds in three separate offerings over the next two years. However, in this first round RUS announced it is making available $2.4 billion--almost its entire package--and NTIA is putting up $1.6 billion, a little more than a third of its package.
Both agencies have given vendors just 44 days to respond. That's far shorter than the 60-90 days anticipated.
The RUS has opted to give the lion's share--$2 billion--of its money away as grants, focused on bringing broadband to the most remote and unserved areas in America. About $400 million of the grants are for areas at least 50 miles away from anywhere not considered rural.
"These are places where you are really doing a new build from scratch," said Sinderbrand.