From the Expert:
States Can Have Input on Stimulating Broadband
By Paul Czarnecki, NASTD Technology Analyst
States will have a chance to help shape the process for administration of broadband stimulus funds in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The Commerce Department, Federal Communications Commission and Department of Agriculture, the federal agencies responsible for allocating the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funds, began a series of public meetings March 10 in Washington, D.C.
Those agencies emphasized they are still looking for state input on the process, and states can make comments on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Web site.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is part of the Commerce Department, is responsible for $4.7 billion of the broadband stimulus funds. The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service will oversee distribution of the remaining $2.5 billion.
Several states—including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New York, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming—are actively drafting proposals or considering applying for funds.
South Dakota officials are aggressively monitoring both portions of the stimulus package, as well as tracking potential impact from other technology provisions in the Recovery Act that deal specifically with education, health and law enforcement.
“We have been talking with our telecommunications providers to identify areas of need and technologies of interest across the state,” said Jim Edman, deputy chief information officer for South Dakota’s Bureau of Information and Telecommunications.
The state is waiting to see how the agencies define terms such as rural, unserved and underserved, along with program eligibility and application requirements, Edman said.
Those are among the questions that remain unanswered, but details of the broadband provisions are taking shape:
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Rural Utilities Service expect to award grants in three rounds; the first round is expected to begin in April. The utilities service is also considering loans and loan guarantees.
The telecommunications administration funds include money for broadband mapping and broadband for public areas such as library computer centers.
Applicants are encouraged to coordinate projects with other stimulus-related projects to increase efficiency.
The Recovery Act requires that each state receive at least one grant..
The FCC will develop a national broadband strategy and advise the agencies on grant and loan awards.
But those grants and loans may pose challenges to states.
Derald Kerkland, director of Louisiana’s Office of Telecommunications Management, said because of the way his office is structured, sustaining programs funded by the stimulus package may be difficult after that money is spent.
“As a full cost recovery entity, we have had no method of recovering administrative costs under previous programs,” said Kirkland. He added, however, that other funding opportunities for other technology areas may be available and the state is monitoring the public hearings carefully.
The federal agencies associated with broadband stimulus dollars held three more public meetings in the past week, and have planned hearings for March 19, 23 and 24.