The short window to file applications for Federal broadband stimulus grants and loans has had state governments and agencies scrambling to complete and file applications. The tight time frame has also led Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, as well as his counterparts in Colorado and New Mexico, to hire outside law firms with expertise in matters broadband, to help complete the applications in time and raise the likelihood of them being successful.
The deadline for filing applications for the first round of the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and Rural Utilities Service’s Broadband Initiatives Program passed on August 20. Missouri filed BTOP and BIP applications totaling $140 million.
State governors and agencies are playing a central role in cobbling together public and private sector organizations to partner in projects and programs that meet BTOP and BIP criteria, and some are looking to outside law firms to help increase the likelihood that their applications will be approved.
Some state lawmakers are questioning the efficacy of doing so, however, as well as the way in which the whole process is taking place. In July, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon hired the Baller Herbst Law Group using a no bid contract to assist the state develop and complete its broadband stimulus program grant and loan applications, paying the firm $495 an hour to do so.
In less than two months, Baller’s billings quickly surpassed an initial soft cap of $50,000 on expenses. A new cap was quickly agreed with a $100,000 limit, according to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report.
State senators such as Brad Lager would prefer the state spend the money and time to better study the situation and propose the best possible plan. Lager told the legislature that it was “insane” to go around laying cable without first studying where it’s really needed first, according to the news report.
“We take the time to hire a consultant on a no-bid contract, but we don’t take the time to have a plan first?” Lager asked. “We as a state need to take a more thoughtful approach here,” he was quoted as saying.
“Because of the short deadline and the expertise needed to put together these broadband grants, we thought it was necessary to get somebody with their technical expertise,” spokesman Jack Cardetti responded in defense of the governor and the executive branch’s actions.