On May 18, 2009, the two federal agencies that will distribute $7.2 billion to support broadband projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) reported to Congress on their progress in implementing the new stimulus law. The reports provide detailed information on the allocation, timing and procedures for distribution of the new federal funding for broadband development.

These reports follow coordinated efforts by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Rural Utilities Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (RUS) to solicit public participation and comments on the policies and procedures that will govern the broadband programs funded by ARRA. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission has requested public comments on its role in establishing ARRA definitions and concepts. Additional information about the May 18, 2009 reports to Congress is provided below.

Proposed Time Frames for Funding Applications and Awards

NTIA will disburse ARRA funds under its Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) in three rounds. NTIA has committed to releasing its initial Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA) in the summer of 2009 and anticipates making its first round of grant awards by the end of 2009. NTIA plans to release two more NOFAs in 2010, on dates to be determined. As required by ARRA, all BTOP funding must be awarded by NTIA no later than September 30, 2010, and all broadband service projects funded by BTOP must be substantially complete before September 30, 2012.

The funds allocated to RUS’s Rural Development Broadband Program (RBDP) will be disbursed in three grant rounds. RUS has committed to releasing its initial NOFA in June 2009, and anticipates making its first round of funding awards by the end of 2009. RUS intends to release additional NOFAs in calendar year 2010, on dates to be determined.

NOFA Regulations, Policies and Procedures

The initial NTIA NOFA will include detail about the types of entities and projects eligible to receive BTOP grants; selection criteria; grantee self-reporting obligations; and NTIA monitoring and auditing procedures. The initial NOFA also will define the terms “broadband,” “unserved” and “underserved” as used in the statute and will explain the open access conditions to be placed on all BTOP funding grants. The regulations, policies and procedures of NTIA’s initial NOFA will be subject to modification for subsequent grant rounds.

The initial RUS NOFA will include similar detail about the amount and types of funds to be made available through RDBP. We understand that the initial NOFA also will incorporate monitoring and auditing obligations currently used for other programs administered by RUS under the Rural Electrification Act of 1936.

Public Outreach Programs for Prospective Funding Applicants

NTIA and RUS will jointly host regional workshops for prospective funding applicants to encourage participation in BTOP and RDBP, to provide further instruction and guidance on the NOFA regulations, policies and procedures, and to promote project partnerships. Dates and places of the workshops will be published later.

Post-Selection Reporting Requirements, Monitoring and Evaluation of Projects

NTIA is developing standard procedures for conducting quarterly desk reviews and onsite monitoring visits of BTOP-funded projects. BTOP projects will be evaluated by the degree to which the projects expand broadband service, increase the number of broadband connections, extend broadband service to unserved and/or underserved areas, and serve ARRA’s economic objectives, especially job creation.

Like NTIA, RUS will monitor the progress of its RDBP-funded broadband service projects through desk and field reviews. In addition, RUS intends to mandate self-reporting of compliance with project benchmarks at least once per quarter. All funding beneficiaries will be obligated to perform an annual audit of RDBP funds, and RUS field accountants will perform a final audit upon project completion. RUS intends to use outside contractors for some project monitoring and evaluation functions. Evaluation metrics for RDBP-funded projects will include the number of new or retained businesses; the number of jobs created or saved; households and businesses receiving first-time access to broadband service; households and businesses with improved broadband access; and educational, health care and public safety providers receiving broadband access.