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NTIA and RUS Issue Notices of Funds Availability for Final Broadband Stimulus Funding Round

Application Deadline: March 15, 2010

Last Friday, (Jan. 15, 2010), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Rural Utilities Service (RUS) each issued a Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA) for the second and final round of broadband stimulus funding.  In this round, the agencies plan to distribute the remainder of the $7.2 billion appropriated by Congress in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 ("Recovery Act").  The deadline for submitting applications to NTIA and RUS is March 15, 2010 at 5:00 p.m. EST.  

The agencies made significant changes to the programs for this second round of funding.  While we briefly highlight some of the most sweeping changes from Round One below, we stress that each NOFA details extensive eligibility requirements, application requirements, and evaluation criteria.  If your company is thinking about applying for broadband stimulus funds, your company should begin preparing applications as soon as possible.  

For those companies with Round One applications still pending, NTIA and RUS expect to distribute all awarded funds by the end of February.

Round Two:  NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP)

Funding Amounts.  The NTIA NOFA makes $2.6 billion in funding available through BTOP, including approximately $2.35 billion for Comprehensive Community Infrastructure ("CCI") projects, $150 million for Public Computer Centers, and $100 million for Sustainable Broadband Adoption projects.

Focus on Middle Mile.  NTIA's NOFA drastically changes the BTOP broadband infrastructure component.  In Round One, the broadband Infrastructure program sought proposals for "unserved" or "underserved" Last Mile and Middle Mile projects.

For Round Two, NTIA expects to devote approximately $2.35 billion to the newly created CCI program.  This program will focus almost entirely on Middle Mile projects, particularly those providing new or improved broadband services to community anchor institutions.  NTIA expects CCI awards to fall within the $5-$150 million range, although applicants may request a waiver. 

Moreover, NTIA will not fund stand-alone Last Mile projects.  Instead, NTIA will consider funding Last Mile infrastructure only as part of a Middle Mile proposal.

"Unserved" and "Underserved".  For Round Two, NTIA does not require that broadband infrastructure projects serve unserved or underserved areas.  Proposed projects that include unserved or underserved areas will receive particular weight by reviewers scoring applications.

Census Blocks and Mapping Tool.  NTIA has eliminated the use of the mapping tool.  Moreover, applicants no longer must provide service area information at the Census block level.  Instead, applicants will provide information at the Census tract and block group level.

Proposed Funded Service Areas Public Notice.  NTIA will continue to permit existing service providers to comment on proposed funded service areas, but has reduced the response time from 30 days to 15 days.

BTOP Matching. NTIA will still require applicants to match NTIA's 80% grants with 20% cash or in-kind funding.  At the same time, NTIA will give additional consideration to applicants that can provide at least a 30% match. 

Additional Changes.  NTIA has relaxed some of the restrictions it placed on funded projects and facilities in Round One.  For example, the NOFA modifies the 10-year prohibition on the sale or lease of funded projects to allow awardees to petition for a waiver authorizing the sale or lease of assets at any time during the life of the award-funded facilities.

Round Two:  RUS Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP)

Funding Amounts.  The RUS NOFA makes $2.2 billion in funding available through the BIP.   This includes $1.7 billion for Last Mile projects, up to $300 million for Middle Mile projects, up to $100 million for Satellite projects, and up to $5 Million for Rural Library and Technical Assistance projects.

Focus on Last Mile.  RUS has indicated it will award up to $1.7 billion in loans or loan/grant combinations for Last Mile projects.  RUS expects to award only $300 million for Middle Mile projects.  RUS strongly encourages applicants for Middle Mile projects that are not current RUS loan and grant recipients to apply to BTOP.

Round Two Eligible Service Areas.  Only rural areas in which at least 50% of the premises in the area do not have access to 5 Mbps (upstream and downstream combined) broadband service qualify for funding.  Moreover, proposed funded service areas must be at least 75% rural. 

Loan/Grant Award Allocations.  For Round Two, RUS has adopted a 75% grant and 25% loan combination for all Last Mile and Middle Mile projects.  At the same time, RUS will award applicants more points for requesting a higher percentage of loans.

Proposed Funded Service Areas Public Notice.  RUS has retained the mapping tool and will also continue to give existing service providers 30 days to comment on proposed funded service areas.

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