Broadband stimulus grant requirements for state and local governments were finally released today from the federal Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Both agencies will disburse the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money set aside from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. State and local agencies may submit their applications between July 14 and Aug. 14, 2009, the first application window announced.

As for what constitutes adequate broadband speed, RUS and the NTIA will require an advertised speed of "at least 768 kilobits per second (Kbps) downstream and at least 200 Kbps upstream to end-users, or [that provides] sufficient capacity in a middle-mile project," according to the agencies' application requirements Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA).

Speculation has swirled around the federal government's forthcoming standard for establishing whether an area is "underserved" and "unserved" by broadband access. RUS and the NTIA answer that by saying an area is "underserved" if it meets at least one of the following three requirements:

  • No more than 50 percent of the households in the proposed area can already have access to "facilities-based, terrestrial broadband service" at greater than 768 Kbps downstream and 200 Kbps upstream.
  • An area can qualify if no fixed or mobile broadband service provider advertises broadband transmission speeds of at least three megabits per second (Mbps) downstream.
  • An area is also eligible if its rate of broadband subscribership equals 40 percent or less of its households.

An area meets the definition of "unserved" if at least 90 percent of its households lack access to "facilities-based, terrestrial broadband service," either fixed or mobile, at the aforementioned minimum speed. RUS and the NTIA say a household has "access to broadband" if it can readily subscribe to that service upon request.

Both agencies require electronic submissions for applications seeking more than $1 million. A paper exception applies if the person submitting has a relevant disability. The application packages for submitting via both electronically and paper are available online.

All broadband stimulus money must be disbursed by Sept. 30, 2010, according to NOFA requirements. Grant recipients need to have "substantially" completed their projects by the end of two years and fully completed them by the end of three years.

Andy Opsahl  |  Features Editor