ARRA logoIn the wake of experiencing a greater than expected volume of grant applications for the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration on August 17 submitted its first quarterly report to Congress.

As set out in the ARRA, BTOP grants are to be awarded to shovel-ready broadband projects.  Completed applications filed by the August 20 deadline will be reviewed by at least three expert reviewers against established criteria, according to the NTIA, which has been busy selecting and preparing reviewers.  Application scores are to be averaged, with the best qualified applications forwarded for further consideration.  Results of the initial review phase are expected no earlier than September 14, 2009, according to the report.

Up to $1.6 billion has been allocated across three categories for the first round of BTOP grant funding.  Having issued the first round Notice of Funds Availability on July 1, NTIA’s current goal is to issue a second NOFA before the end of the year and a third in spring, 2010.  Preceded by Requests for Informations, the public will have a chance to comment on each of them before their release.

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In the first round, as much as $1.2 billion will be available to fund projects that deliver Last or Middle Mile broadband access to under and unserved areas.  Another $150 million may be awarded through the Sustainable Broadband Adoption to fund innovative projects that promote broadband demand, such as education, training, access, equipment or support, particularly among vulnerable populations.

Up to $50 million is available for projects that expand computer center capacity at sites that allow public use, such as community colleges and public libraries, while $200 million in first round grant funds have been put aside in reserve “meritorious applications in any of the three project areas, or to be used in later grant rounds,” the report authors write.

Also on July 1, the NTIA issued a NOFA for the State Broadband Data and Development, or Mapping, Program, a competitive, merit-based matching grant program to fund projects that collect comprehensive and accurate state-level broadband mapping data, develop state-level broadband maps, aid in the development and maintenance of a national broadband map, and fund statewide initiatives directed at broadband planning.   NTIA expects to allocate as much as $240 million in ARRA funding available to states or state-designated parties through the program.

The NTIA is working closely with the FCC, which, in accordance with ARRA, is developing a National Broadband Plan, and the Dept. of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, which has been allocated $2.5 billion in ARRA funds for broadband loans and grants under the Broadband Initiatives Program.  Run by the RUS, the BIP has been established to fund broadband infrastructure projects in areas that are at least 75% rural.

“The development of coordinated grant and loan programs that make up the Federal broadband initiatives reflect a unique and significant level of coordination between two cabinet-level agencies and an independent Federal agency. NTIA intends for consumers to be the ultimate beneficiaries of these efforts,” state the report’s authors.

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