Broadband Applications Outstrip Available Funds
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
For every dollar the Feds grant to applicants for rural broadband stimulus funds, six dollars will go begging, at least for now. That may well be the measure of hunger in the hinterlands for high speed Internet access.
All told, communities, organizations, and corporations have filed 2,200 requests totaling $28 billion to the two agencies — the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), and the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) – that have between them $7.2 billion to spend bringing high speed Internet access to largely rural unserved and underserved areas.
But this is only the first round of applications, for which just over $4 billion is available. More money, and more applications, are still to come.
All 50 states are represented in the stack of applications, according to telecompetitor.com, a blog for the telecommunications industry.
A searchable database of all 2,200 applications is online. You can also see a summary of all the applications. Be warned, though: that puppy slowed my wireless broadband connection down to a crawl. You’d best try the search form. It’s pretty snappy.
I’m going to be very interested to see where the first-round funding goes. More than a billion dollars of the requests (a quarter of what’s available) come from two satellite internet companies. WildBlue (in partnership with EchoStar, a larger company) and Hughes each seek a half billion dollars to expand their services. Both companies have lost most, if not all, of their subscribers in my town, The Little Town That Could, which voted last year to appropriate $40,000 to start our own system.
A year and 22 days later, we have nearly 50 subscribers and about $9,000 still unspent. Our signal doesn’t yet cover the entire town, and some folks are finding the initial outlay ($400 for a radio receiver and $100 for installation) prohibitive. Our broadband committee (of which I am a member) met with the selectboard last Monday night to explore ways to let residents pay the equipment cost in 12 monthly payments. The board, which controls the finances (our committee makes recommendations and handles the technical aspects) approved the idea in principle, and delegated the town’s administrative coordinator to talk with town counsel about the necessary paperwork.
At that meeting we also discussed financial projections for the coming year, with an eye to expanding the system to reach more of the town. Eventually, in the not distant future, taxpayers will be looking to the system to pay back the $40,000.
It’s not local pride that led satellite Internet customers to switch to our wireless broadband service. Our system runs much faster than theirs.
State government applications range in price from New York’s $775 million down to North Carolina’s $28 million. Many rural telephone companies applied, but notably missing are applications from the major telephone companies, including Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint.
My town is among many in Western Massachusetts represented in the stim fund application sent in by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute. We’re hoping for help in expanding the system throughout the whole town. If not on this round, perhaps the next.
Posted on September 10th, 2009 by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Filed under: Uncategorized