Broadband stimulus funding raises concerns

As the federal government announces its plans to award the second round of broadband stimulus funding, telecommunications companies are concerned that it targets duplicate projects, instead of expanded high-speed service for unserved areas.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently announced that it received 867 applications for a share of the $2.6 billion second round Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) funding. The Rural Utilities Service has not yet announced the number of applicants for its $2.1 billion available in the second round.

The BTOP program has faced criticism for its lack of a clearly defined process in awarding grant money. As a result, the Commerce Department's Inspector General has begun an inquiry into the program's approval process.

The federal government contends it is using funds to ensure that minimum speed requirements are met. Many regional and national providers fear that instead government money will be used to duplicate existing service in low-density rural areas. The BTOP programs is supposed to bring service to unserved and underserved areas.

Many existing systems lack the capacity to meet ballooning service demands, and additional stimulus-funded service could push speeds to 100 megabits per second, or even 10 gigabits per second for anchor institutions (such as school, hospitals, and libraries).

Recent Verizon-spinoff FairPoint Communications is concerned that a $25.4 million NTIA grant to build three interconnected fiber rings in Maine will duplicate service they acquired from Verizon.

But the service FairPoint provides ranges from 7 megabits to 30 megabits per second, whereas the fiber service will provide significantly faster connections.

A new plan to ensure fairness in the approval process is due to the Inspector General within two months.

Broadband funds stimulate laments from companies (AP)

Commerce announces continued demand for funding to bring broadband to more Americans (NTIA)

Commerce Inspector General Scores BTOP (Broadband and Breakfast)

U.S. House closes RMT tax loophole (Speedmatters)