Jan 24, 2010

Broadband grants trickle out, apps to flood in again

With the announcement last week of four more broadband grants under the Recovery Act, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has awarded $200 million or about 4 percent of its $4.8 billion broadband purse.

Meanwhile, NTIA and the Ag Department’s Rural Utilities Service, which runs a separate grant program, set the deadline for their second rounds: Both will accept apps Feb. 16 to March 15. Grantees will be announced by Sept. 30. Details are online.

NTIA’s latest grants will help expand fast Internet networks in two states: In Michigan, nonprofit Merit Network Inc. got $33.3 million to extend its fiber-optic backbone by 955 miles in 32 counties. (Merit will discuss plans in a webcast Monday morning.) And in North Carolina, nonprofit MCNC got $28.2 million to expand the North Carolina Research and Education Network, adding 494 miles of middle-mile connections to 685 miles of existing routes in the urbanized center of the state.

Much smaller sums went to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell for broadband awareness and literacy outreach and Michigan State University to add 500 workstations in computer centers around the state.

NTIA said it will give top priority to Comprehensive Community Infrastructure that complete the “middle mile” hookups for libraries, colleges, hospitals and other key institutions in an area. It also will put at least $150 million into public computer centers that give broadband access to the general public and $100 million into Sustainable Broadband Adoption grants to educate and equip “vulnerable population groups” that don’t often use broadband.

Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service will concentrate funds on last-mile projects while streamlining its aid options: All supported projects will get 75 percent of their funds as grants and 25 percent as loans. The agency will announce a later app period for projects providing broadband via satellite in rural areas that are left unserved by other Recovery Act projects.

For potential grant-seekers, both agencies will offer live webcasts from technical assistance workshops this week: On Tuesday, Agriculture’s from Portland, Ore., at noon Eastern time, 9 a.m. Pacific. On Friday, Jan. 29, NTIA will stream its workshop from Denver, at 11 a.m. Eastern, 9 a.m. Mountain. Online participants must register more than 24 hours in advance.

In addition to the events in Portland and Denver, the agencies will hold public workshops around the country: Reno, Nev., Jan. 27; San Antonio, Feb. 1; Eureka, Mo., Feb. 2; Sioux Falls, S.D., Feb. 4; Detroit, Feb. 5; Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 9; Fayetteville, N.C., Feb. 11; and Atlanta, Feb. 12.

The agencies also offer a website, at, to help applicants hook up with potential partners.

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