The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the Department of Agriculture have issued a joint request for information and notice of public meetings (Joint Notice) preparatory to adopting final rules for granting the $7.2 billion in grants for broadband construction that was provided by Congress in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the "Stimulus Legislation").

The Joint Notice was published in the Federal Register on Thursday, March 12. The deadline for a single round of comments is Monday, April 13.

NTIA and RUS also announced a series of joint meetings -- four in Washington, D.C. (on March 16, 19, 23 & 24) and two in the field (in Las Vegas and Phoenix) on March 17 & 18. These meetings will have announced topics and participants on panels, as well as a limited opportunity for audience participation. I am told that the earlier NTIA-announced invitation for individual meetings is "no longer effective."

There is no period provided for written reply comments. The next action expected is for NTIA and RUS to individually issue their rules and procedures to govern applications and grants.

The focus of potential applicants likely will be on key gating issues such as the following.  

  • What should be the definition of "unserved" and underserved" areas?
  • What should be the definition of "broadband", including whether data rates should be part of the definition, and if they are, (1) what should those data rates be (in each direction) and (2) should definition of the broadband data rate be different for different technologies and delivery services, such as cable, satellite, fiber, DSL, wireless, BPL, etc.
  • What entities, beyond those specifically called out in the statute, should be eligible to receive funds?
  • What nondiscrimination and network interconnection obligations ("net neutrality" provisions) should be attached as contractual requirements, if any, in addition to those statutorily required that are contained in the FCC's broadband policy statement, FCC 05-151,
  • What should be the role of the States?

Issues such as those above will define the entities and areas eligible for grants beyond those specifically called out in the statute.