All applications for the first round of funding for both the NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the RUS Broadband Initiatives Program must be submitted no later than 5:00 pm EDT on August 14, 2009.

The U.S. government's policy of promoting the deployment of broadband infrastructure and the availability of broadband services to all Americans took a significant step forward when the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) formally launched the application process for federal stimulus funding for broadband-related projects.

Specifically, NTIA and RUS jointly issued a Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA) setting forth the rules and procedures for applying for and utilizing federal stimulus funding under the NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and the RUS Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP). This NOFA applies to the first of a planned three rounds of funding, with subsequent rounds tentatively planned for fall 2009 and spring 2010.

All applications for both the BTOP and BIP programs for the first round of funding must be submitted no later than 5:00 pm EDT on August 14, 2009. Due dates for later funding rounds will be announced through separate NOFAs to be issued in the coming months.

During the first round of funding, NTIA will award approximately $1.4 billion in BTOP grants, while RUS will provide approximately $2.4 billion in program-level funding through a combination of grants and loans. The agencies anticipate that they will begin announcing awards for the first round on or about November 7, 2009, and will continue to announce awards thereafter on an ongoing basis through September 30, 2010, depending on fund availability. Projects funded through either BTOP or BIP must be "substantially complete" no later than two years after the issuance of the award, and must be fully completed no later than three years after the issuance of the award.

The following is a summary of the rules and procedures for BTOP and BIP stimulus funding.

Eligibility for Broadband Stimulus Funding

Broadband Technology Opportunities Program

NTIA has determined that all public and private entities, including for-profit corporations, are eligible for a BTOP grant provided they are "willing to promote the goals of the Recovery Act" (such as economic growth, job creation and other benefits to education, health care and public safety) and are willing to "comply with the statutory requirements of BTOP."

The BTOP program will be divided into three categories of projects:

  • Broadband Infrastructure (consisting of "Last Mile" and "Middle Mile" projects)
  • Public Computer Centers
  • Sustainable Broadband Adoption

The bulk of the BTOP funding will be awarded in the Broadband Infrastructure category, which is intended "to deliver broadband access to unserved and underserved areas."

Broadband Initiatives Program

Eligibility for funding from RUS through the BIP is restricted to projects in which at least 75 percent of the funded area is a rural area that "lacks sufficient access to high-speed broadband service to facilitate economic development." Further, applicants requesting funding for broadband infrastructure projects in areas that are at least 75 percent rural must submit their applications to RUS for consideration under the BIP program, regardless of whether their project may satisfy other BIP eligibility requirements. If such applicants also want to be considered for BTOP funding (for example, if the rural areas to be served might not meet the strict definitions of "unserved" or "underserved"), they must also provide any additional information required of BTOP applicants.

Requirements and Procedures

Broadband Technology Opportunities Program

All projects funded under BTOP must advance one or more of the following statutory objectives:

  • Provide access to broadband service to consumers in unserved or underserved areas of the United States
  • Provide broadband access, education, awareness, training, equipment and support to community anchor institutions (e.g., schools, libraries, hospitals)
  • Improve access to, and use of, broadband service by public safety agencies
  • Stimulate demand for broadband, economic growth and job creation

Once all applications have been received, NTIA will first conduct an initial screen to determine whether an application meets the mandatory threshold requirements, such as completeness.

After screening, applications will be subject to a two-step review process. The first step will consist of a review by an expert panel, which will evaluate and score each application. Based on these scores, the applications that are considered "the most highly qualified" will advance to the second step, which will require applicants to submit additional detailed information. The governor's office of each state will also have the opportunity to weigh in on pending applications during the second-step review. Once the second-step review is complete, a package of recommendations will be sent to the assistant secretary of NTIA for a final decision. Awards will then be made on a rolling basis subject to fund availability.

Broadband Initiatives Program

Under the BIP, RUS will award grants, loans and loan/grant combinations for broadband infrastructure. Applicants may request 100 percent loan funding, and RUS will favor applications that propose a higher percentage of loan funds; note also that the grant portion of any grant/loan combination cannot exceed the amount of the loan portion. RUS will also favor funding projects that "can commence construction promptly and demonstrate technical and financial feasibility, organizational capacity, and compliance with other Administration priorities."

RUS will also use a two-step application process. In the first step, applications will be reviewed for completeness and eligibility and will be evaluated based on certain scoring criteria. The highest scoring applicants will then be invited to participate in the second step of the process, in which they will be required to submit additional documentation.

NTIA and RUS have included in the NOFA a detailed list of the criteria they will use to evaluate and "score" applications, including the "point values" for different categories and factors. The rules also include specific details of the various obligations that will be imposed on successful award recipients, including interconnection and nondiscrimination requirements, monitoring and reporting obligations, audit requirements, and prohibitions or restrictions on the sale or lease of project assets.

As discussed above, NTIA and RUS intend to start announcing awards on or about November 7, 2009, and will continue their announcements on a rolling basis depending on fund availability. The agencies intend to make award documents available to recipients within 30 days of the award announcement and to complete the award documentation with successful applicants within 60 days.