Long shot for federal broadband grants in California

29 May 2014 by Steve Blum
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Federal broadband infrastructure grants are pretty thin. Earlier this year, congress approved $10 million a year for five years for rural gigabit pilot projects. The FCC is looking at putting money into rural broadband experiments, but isn’t saying how much. And the US department of agriculture’s rural utilities service – which usually just makes loans – has $13 million available now for “advanced communications technology in rural areas”, via its Community Connect grant program.

The official announcement went out last week, just before the Memorial Day weekend (h/t to Connie Stewart at the California Center for Rural Policy and the Redwood Coast Connect regional broadband consortium for the pointer). The deadline for applying is 7 July 2014.

The question for Californians is whether it’s worth the trouble. The last time the USDA awarded a Community Connect grant in California was 2011. In the 12 years since the program began, only 7 broadband projects have been funded here for a total of $4.4 million. 5 of those grants went to Indian tribes and 2 to commercial broadband projects.

Compare that to what the California Public Utilities Commission has done in the past year: $41.7 million in grants from the California Advanced Services Fund to broadband infrastructure projects (including $6.6 million to backfill federal grants in tribal areas). Ten times what the Community Connect program has put into projects here in the past 12 years and almost twice what the feds are spending on broadband development nationwide.

So applying for a federal Community Connect grant is a low probability play. Should you do it? Robert Heinlein put it best:

Certainly the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you; if you don’t bet, you can’t win.

Good luck!