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Broadband Stimulus Excludes Urban Areas, Says City CIO

Recently released broadband stimulus eligibility requirements exclude urban areas by requiring "un-served" or "underserved" coverage status, San Jose, Calif., CIO Steve Ferguson says.

by / July 8, 2009

Requirements for broadband money set aside in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will exclude urban areas if language in the federal government's notice of funds available (NOFA) released last week goes unchanged, Steve Ferguson, CIO of San Jose, Calif., told Government Technology this week. He contends the requirements exclude urban cities and urban counties by requiring them to be either "un-served" or "underserved" by broadband coverage.

The broadband stimulus NOFA defines an area as "underserved" if it meets at least one of the following three requirements:

o 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.
o 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.
o An area is also eligible if its rate of broadband subscribership equals 40 percent or less of its households.

An area meets the NOFA's 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. The federal Rural Utilities Service and the and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration - the two agencies responsible for managing billions of dollars for broadband -- say a household has "access to broadband" if it can readily subscribe to that service upon request.

Ferguson said virtually no urban area can qualify based on those definitions.

"I have a fire station that I could use fiber to, but it's in the middle of downtown San Jose. I don't have a 'un-served' or 'underserved' component there," Ferguson commented.

He said language in the ARRA passed by Congress in February listed "un-served" and "underserved" as acceptable eligibility qualifications, but didn't rule out areas that lacked "underserved" or "un-served" status.

"If that inconsistency isn't cleared up, it makes any attempt for stimulus money in an urban city a virtual impossibility," Ferguson said, later adding, "We felt like we had a number of very good candidate projects that fit."

Ferguson said an attorney with the Public Technology Institute agreed with his interpretation of the NOFA's language during a webinar Tuesday morning.

"He encouraged those of us interested in pursuing projects to go ahead and get working on them because he thought [the federal government] was going to have to rectify that discrepancy," Ferguson remarked.

The Public Technology Institute wasn't immediately available for comment Tuesday.


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Andy Opsahl

Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.

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