The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provides an exceptional opportunity for tribes in rural areas to bring broadband coverage to their members and local communities. Under ARRA, $7.2 billion in funding for broadband deployment will be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is located within the Department of Commerce, and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), an agency within the Department of Agriculture. All of the funding must be awarded by Sept. 30, 2010, and one-half of the funding must be awarded in 2009. Indian tribes are eligible to apply for these grants to bring broadband to "unserved" and "underserved" areas.

The broadband funding programs for which tribes are eligible include:

Department of Commerce

$4.7 billion is available to establish the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program ("BTOP"). This money will be spent for broadband services deployment grants to "unserved" and "underserved" areas, increasing public computer center capacity, and for "innovative programs to encourage sustainable adoption of broadband services." Priorities in awarding these grants will be given to "community anchor institutions" (such as hospitals and public libraries), to provide education and employment for "vulnerable populations," and to improve public safety broadband communications services.

Department of Agriculture

RUS is providing $2.5 billion in loans, loan guarantees and grants to support rural residents that lack broadband access. Seventy-five (75) percent of an area receiving such funding must be "in a rural area without sufficient access to high speed broadband service to facilitate rural economic development."

While implementation rules still need to be adopted (including defining the "unserved" and "underserved" areas eligible for Commerce Department funding, and what constitutes sufficient "broadband" service necessary to "facilitate rural economic development"), the federal agencies are rapidly proceeding with plans for awarding the funding. The Department of Commerce has already held several public hearings in Las Vegas, Flagstaff, Ariz., and Washington, D.C. Funds are to be awarded for both programs in three rounds: April-June 2009; October-December 2009; and April-June 2010. Applicants can apply for both NTIA or RUS funding for the same project but may not receive both for the same portion of the same project.