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Analysis: Paltry Stimulus Allotment May Signal Trouble Ahead

22 декабря 2009

The government finally got around to handing out some of the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funding set aside by the Obama administration. 

For anyone who took this as a sign that the government was finally getting its act together on the broadband stimulus fund, think twice. The first 18 projects to get federal funding received less than 3 percent of the overall stimulus funds, and there’s no news on when more funds will be allocated. 

“It’s certainly disappointing,” says PRTM Telecom analyst Dan Hays. “When you look at the original intent of the stimulus bill, this portion had two purposes: To enhance broadband access and create jobs. The continuing delays are not satisfying any of the purposes.”

It’s no wonder there are delays. The folks over at the USDA's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) have been swamped by 2,200 applications for the broadband stimulus money. 

The NTIA and RUS were supposed to begin awarding grant money in November, but the disbursement was pushed out to December after both agencies said they needed more time to review the applications. The marginal sum of money allotted in the first round suggests that more delays could be ahead for the understaffed program. 

“NTIA and RUS greatly underestimated the complexity and magnitude of the applications they would receive and the time it would take to evaluate them,” Hays says. 

Hays estimates that many of the submitted applications were only partially completed because of the agencies’ tight deadlines. This has forced the NTIA and RUS to spend extra time trying to track down missing data. 

Complicating matters further are complaints from incumbent providers like Comcast that have lodged significant protests against some of the applications, arguing that they cover territory already well-served by their own services. All of this has to be sorted out, preferably before a large-scale allotment of stimulus funds. 

If the Dec. 17 allocation is any indication, the NTIA and RUS are more interested in small grants to several applicants than large grants to fewer applicants. On the upside, this allows them to diversify their allocations across a wider range of applicants. On the downside, it could result in under-funded, unsustainable projects. 

The future of the broadband plan remains murky. It’s unclear when more funds will be allotted, and whether the projects they fund will be successful. 

In an address, Vice President Joe Biden said the stimulus funds would help businesses better compete around the world. “This is what the Recovery Act is all about – sparking new growth, tapping into the ingenuity of the American people and giving folks the tools they need to help build a new economy in the 21st-century,” he said. 

Unfortunately, the broadband stimulus program has also become about frustration, delays and lack of clarity. 

By Maisie Ramsay

Источник: Wireless Week

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