Two U.S. agencies distributing grants and loans for broadband deployment across the country have extended their deadline for applications for a second round of funding.
The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the U.S. Rural Utilities Service (RUS) had set a deadline of March 15 for companies or organizations to apply for about US$4.8 billion in grants and loans, but the two agencies haven't yet finished awarding all the money from the first round of applications.
The original deadline for round two applications was March 15 for both agencies. The new deadline is March 26 for NTIA infrastructure applications and March 29 for RUS applications. Applications for two other NTIA project categories, public computer centers and sustainable broadband adoption, remain due March 15.
The agencies had projected they would award about $2 billion in the first round by the end of February. But several applications are still being evaluated, said Jessica Schafer, an NTIA spokeswoman. NTIA hasn't given a date when it expects those grants to be awarded.
The NTIA's portion of the first round was about $1.4 billion, and the agency has awarded close to $1 billion in grants as of Tuesday afternoon, Schafer said.
The RUS had up to $2.4 billion available to award in the first round, although it expected to award less than that. The RUS awarded more than $680 million in the first round, said Bartel Kendrick, broadband stimulus outreach coordinator for RUS.
The RUS has a "handful" of round one applications still being evaluated, Kendrick said. The agency wanted applicants to have a full month to review maps of areas that qualified for funding, and new maps were released Feb. 25, he said.
NTIA has been working to notify pending round-one applicants about their status, Schafer said. "We have been very clear with the handful of infrastructure projects that remain [in evaluation] that they should consider filing the second round if they so desire," she said. "We know that it takes significant resources to file a ... proposal, and we thought a limited extension of this sort would allow us to accommodate the handful of applicants that remain in the due diligence pool."
On Feb. 24, the NTIA filed a document showing the pending applications for round one.
The decision to move back the deadline is good news for applicants, said Craig Settles, a community broadband consultant and president of Successful.com. In recent weeks, several local government and private firms, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, had asked for an extension.
Several groups had raised concerns about round one not ending by Feb. 28. Round two applicants would then have little time to determine whether their applications overlapped with projects awarded in round one, Settles said.
With billions of dollars at stake, it made sense to delay the application deadline and allow round one applicants time to assess why they were rejected, Settles said.
"We who've been working pretty hard have scored a win on deadline extension," he added. "Any steps forward in this struggle [are] going to help raise the quality of applications, increase the number of good project proposals and ultimately help communities get better broadband."
The two agencies received $7.2 billion for broadband deployment and mapping projects in a huge economic stimulus package passed by Congress in early 2009.