Broadband Grants Reviewed

The federal government will soon start handing out the first $4 billion in stimulus funds for broadband Internet connections, reports the Associated Press. The government received $28 billion in requests.

An online searchable database listing broadband applications for stimulus funds is now open to the public. It was created by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Rural Utilities Services (RUS) for their Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP), respectively.

The database does not have much detail on the broadband grant applications, but they do list Applicant, Contact information, Project title, Project type (fiber/wireless, etc), the Grant request (in dollars), and a short description.

The AP reviews four applications:

  • The Coeur d’Alene Indian tribe in the Idaho panhandle.
  • The tribe is asking for $12.2 million for a ring of fiber-optic lines that could connect up to 3,500 homes on one side of its rural reservation, which is about half the size of Rhode Island. Although the tribe launched its own wireless network in 2005 with the help of Agriculture Department funding, that network reaches less than half the reservation and slows to a crawl whenever too many people get online at once.

    The tribe’s wireless network currently offers top speeds of 1.5 megabits per second, comparable to standard DSL service available elsewhere. But it charges users about $100 a month. The proposed fiber network would deliver a 20-megabit connection for $100 a month or a 1.5-megabit connection for $25 a month.

  • Clearwire is asking for $19.4 million to build a high-speed wireless network in a handful of poor Detroit neighborhoods
  • The region has more than 800,000 people, but the high unemployment and poverty levels make a tough business case. Federal dollars would change the equation, says John Bunce, president of the Clearwire unit applying for stimulus funding. In Detroit, Clearwire says, it would also provide free and discounted accounts for poor residents through nonprofit partners.

  • In Appalachia:
  • A nonprofit Internet provider called the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) is asking for $2.5 million to extend its wireless network in Asheville, N.C., and several remote mountain communities. A sister non-profit is asking for $38.8 million to install fiber lines that would connect that network to the Internet.

    Wally Bowen, MAIN’s executive director, says the service would bring inexpensive mobile Internet connections — with speeds of 3 megabits per second for $30 a month — to a transient, low-income community that includes struggling artists and young entrepreneurs. In addition, MAIN would use stimulus money to extend its wireless service to Mount Mitchell State Park, home to the highest point east of the Mississippi. That would allow campers, park rangers and visiting scientists studying acid rain and biodiversity to get real-time updates on weather and trail conditions.

  • Philadelphia is making its second run at a big municipal broadband project.
  • The city is asking for $21.8 million to connect police precincts, fire stations, libraries, housing projects, recreation centers and community organizations across three inner-city neighborhoods.

    Allan Frank, Philadelphia’s chief technology officer, envisions doing this with a combination of fiber lines and a wireless network. That would bring high-speed links to city buildings to handle municipal affairs — while also enabling garbage collectors, emergency responders, fire inspectors and other city workers to stay connected using handheld devices in the field.

    Philadelphia also has two other stimulus proposals: The city’s public housing authority would like $2.4 million to place computer labs in housing projects. And the city’s library system is asking for $15 million to set up Internet training programs, supply laptops and install Internet connections to get low-income residents online.

You can search the applications yourself. The winners should be announced shortly.

The NTIA has made progress on broadband mapping grants, notes Xchange Magazine. The NTIA on Oct. 5 named California, Indiana, North Carolina and Vermont as mapping grant winners.

Connected Nation, an early advocate of broadband mapping, came under criticism for it’s teleco-favoring policies. Craig Settles observes that NTIA’s grant announcements indicate that the agency is going to fund states that do mapping right.

The national broadband map will publicly display the geographic areas where broadband service is available; the technology used to provide the service; the speeds of the service; and broadband service availability at public schools, libraries, hospitals, colleges, universities, and public buildings. The national map will also be searchable by address and show the broadband providers offering service in the corresponding census block or street segment.

During the recent 2009 FTTH Council Conference & Expo, RUS Deputy Administrator Jessica Zufolo said the RUS and NTIA are strongly leaning towards merging the scheduled second and third rounds of broadband stimulus funding.

That means there will likely be just one more chance to submit a proposal for broadband stimulus funds.

In other news, on October 8, 2009, the DOE announced $10M in grants for 40 new Solar America Cities Special Projects in 16 cities.

Portland was awarded funding for the Solar America Cities Program. Project partners will work with other city bureaus to streamline city-level regulations for contractors, homeowners, and businesses.

The city will use its influence as a regulator, educator, and motivator to reach the larger regional community. In partnership with the DOE, the City of Portland expects to have become a leader in solar energy by 2010.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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