New list of broadband stimulus eligibility requirements enable urban cities to compete by not mandating 'unserved' or 'underserved' coverage status.
Photo: San Jose, Calif., CIO Steve Ferguson/Photo by Gerry McIntyre
Urban cities will not be excluded from applying for broadband stimulus grants, as they were, for the most part, in the first round of funding distributed in December 2009. New, separate notices of funds available (NOFA) have been released detailing eligibility requirements from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), the two federal agencies charged with disbursing $7.2 billion set aside in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for broadband projects.
Unlike the first NOFA, the new NOFA from the NTIA doesn't require applicants to have neighborhoods that are "unserved" or "underserved" by broadband connectivity. During the first funding window, most urban cities couldn't claim to have areas with connectivity deficits like those stipulated in the NOFA, so they were shut out of competing. This frustrated local government officials, like San Jose, Calif., CIO Steve Ferguson who intended to apply for broadband stimulus money until the restriction was announced.
"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 an 'unserved' or 'underserved' component there," Ferguson told Government Technology at the time.
It's unclear how encouraged CIOs like Ferguson should feel about the NTIA's adjustment. Oakland, Calif.-based municipal broadband analyst Craig Settles warned that areas the NTIA considers "un-served" or "underserved" will still get higher priority. Settles suggested urban cities characterize themselves as "underserved" by standards those cities define themselves. For example, purchasing broadband services might be cost prohibitive in certain impoverished areas that technically do have access to connectivity. Perhaps a city could make the case for a city-sponsored network that would bring that area less expensive coverage, Settles said.
"They have a shot that they didn't have in the first round, but it could still turn out that they don't get far because they're not the ideal underserved communities," Settles commented.