Follow the money, from the first to the second round of broadband stimulus grants

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , , , , ,

More than a thousand first round hopefuls are still staring into the black hole that swallowed their applications. The second round notifications of funding availability (NOFAs) issued by the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for the broadband stimulus program do not explicitly address the status of first round applications.

The stimulus bill gave RUS $2.5 billion and NTIA $4.7 billion for broadband project funding. In the first round, RUS said it would give out up to $2.4 billion. Now its saying it’ll give out a total $2.2 billion in the second round. The target budget is:

CategorySecond Round
Last mile projects$1.7 billion
Middle mile projects$300 million
Satellite projects$100 million
Libraries, tech assist$5 million
Reserve$95 million
Total$2.2 billion

That leaves $300 million, which presumably goes to first round grants and, presumably, overhead. So far, RUS has only announced $54 million in first round grants. It still has first round applications in the due diligence stage of review, so any applicant that’s made it that far has a plausible hope of winning funding. The lion’s share of RUS’s money is shifting to the second round, so if you haven’t heard back about first round review yet, I suggest you start thinking about round two.

Unless you also put in a joint bid to NTIA. Including broadband mapping grants, NTIA allocated nearly $2 billion to first round projects. It’s allocating a total of $2.6 billion for the second round:

CategoryTotal TargetedFirst RoundSecond Round
Infrastructure$3.55 billion$1.2 billion$2.35 billion
Public computer centers$200 million$50 million$150 million
Sustainable adoption$250 million$150 million$100 million
Mapping$350 million$350 million-0-
Reserve$200 million$200 million-0-
Total$4.55 billion$1.95 billion$2.6 billion

The two NTIA rounds match up pretty closely with the targeted totals. There’s $150 million unaccounted for, but that’s a believable overhead number for a federal operation.

The inference is that the two rounds will be processed, considered and funded separately. As it lays out now, if you have a first round NTIA application that’s disappeared into the process, it’s possible that you might yet advance to the due diligence stage. But that possibility diminishes as time goes on, particularly if NTIA sticks to its end-of-February target for closing out the first round and its 30-day due diligence period.

The second round workshops start next week, and more information should be available by then. My advice to first round applicants who haven’t heard from NTIA yet is to spend this week beginning to form the community alliances that it advocates so enthusiastically. It won’t be wasted effort, even if you slide into the first round under the wire.