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Friday, May 8, 2009

Obama's Federal Broadband Stimulus: Separate Funding Notices to be Released by NTIA and RUS, Coordinated by Administration

StimulatingBroadband.com 05/08/09 The two federal agencies that will be administering a total of $7.2 billion in "broadband stimulus" funds will each be issuing its own separate official document launching the applicable funding round of each agency.

Separate Notices Confirmed
Some confusion around this point has existed in the press and in the community of practitioners that follows the funding opportunities for new broadband networks enabled by appropriations in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The Act designates $4.7 billion to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce, and $2.5 to be managed by the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the Department of Agriculture.

Under federal practice, the document to be released by each agency, as each launches the funding rounds for ARRA broadband stimulus monies, is called a Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA). The confusion has existed given the fact that NTIA and RUS jointly administered the public comment phase of the process.

Mr. Mark Tolbert, Spokesman for NTIA this afternoon confirmed for StimulatingBroadband.com that the NOFA issuance phases will be legally separate, but coordinated for reasons of policy and "user friendly" consistency for grant applicants. "There will be separate NOFAs," stated Tolbert. "To my knowledge, NTIA and RUS will each issue their own NOFA."

NTIA and RUS Notices to be Released Simultaneously
Tolbert, speaking this afternoon via telephone from NTIA offices in Washington, did state however that NTIA and RUS are working cooperatively in an attempt to issue their NOFAs simultaneously.

"This is a unique undertaking with the Recovery Act," said the NTIA Spokesman. "We have been in consultation with FCC, and working with USDA and RUS folks. We want to make this process as user friendly, and as fluid, for the grant applicants as the end users of this process."

That effort to make the grant application process as understandable as possible for potential applicants drives the goal of simultaneous issuance of the two NOFAs. The Congressional mandates in ARRA for both fiscal accountability, and rapid funds dispersal are also being juggled by line agencies, and by Obama Administration officials. "We will both serve the tax payers well," concluded Tolbert, and make sure all funds are "released by September 2010" as directed by ARRA.

Obama Administration Coordination
Clearly with multiple agencies working to coordinate new federal broadband policy, and to administer ARRA broadband stimulus funds, the central role of Obama Administration policy makers comes to the forefront. Several media reports over the past 2 weeks have identified Administration official Ms. Susan Crawford as playing such a coordination role. Crawford, a former law professor at the University of Michigan Law School, was appointed in April by the President to serve on the National Economic Council.

Ms. Liz Zucco, contributor to StimulatingBroadband.com reported this afternoon on the NTIA-RUS policy coordination process within the Administration.

"Senior officials have now confirmed that the final rule making has now been placed back at the Administration level," reports Zucco. "This should help adhere to the original standards as set forth by Congress, and in the Federal Register." Ms. Zucco, President of Georgia based MarketSYS USA, is a telecommunications consultant with years of experience successfully supporting grant applicants for RUS funds. StimulatingBroadband.com

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