April 15, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
For economic stimulus money to reach the most deserving broadband projects put forth by local governments, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) thinks states should vet applicants instead of federal agencies.
The association sent a letter advocating that view to the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS), both of which will distribute the $7.2 billion set aside from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for broadband infrastructure.
NARUC insists both the NTIA and RUS are too bogged down by prior commitments to judge thousands of broadband stimulus applications within the 18 months remaining before the money must be spent.
"Neither [agency] can possibly complete the tasks assigned under the ARRA without a very significant staff expansion," the letter asserted.
The association recommends asking governors to form groups that are familiar with their states' own broadband landscapes to judge local government applications using NTIA and RUS awarding criteria.
"On the state side, you have the agencies, officials and staff who already deal with these issues every day. They have the knowledge and local insight to know where broadband service is, where it isn't and where it needs help," said Robert Thormeyer, director of communications for NARUC.
The organization thinks public utility regulators, which the NARUC represents, are especially well suited for the job.
"They are closest to the geography of the consumers, and they know where service is and where it isn't," Thormeyer said. "They get a lot of complaints about service from customers, and they know the lay of the land."
In NARUC's scenario, the NTIA and RUS would still need to sign off on the awards the states recommended.
The NTIA has received numerous letters from organizations advocating various ideas for distributing broadband stimulus money. The organization expects to announce how it will disburse the funds by the end of June, according to Bart Forbes, spokesman for the NTIA.
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