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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Advisory: Tips for the Final Day of the Extended BIP-BTOP Filing Period

StimulatingBroadband.com 08/20/09 (Editor's Note: This information is written collaboratively based on information gathered by PrattNetworks LLC of Boston, and MarketSYS of Atlanta, the corporate parent companies respectively of Editor Peter Pratt and frequent Contributor Liz Zucco. Posted at 1:12 am (ET)



Good Morning.



Now with just 16 hours remaining in the extended application filing period of Round I of the federal broadband stimulus grant and loan program, we wanted you to have a final checklist of processing tips if you and your team are still uploading one or more applications.



If you are still processing any applications, we urge you to keep after the task, overnight if possible. We believe NTIA-RUS have correctly urged 'earlier is better' since the filing extension period was announced last week.



New guidance from NTIA-RUS was posted yesterday, Wednesday, August 19, as noted in red items, below.



Actionable Information From the Agencies & Applicants

The extended electronic filing period closes off today, Thursday, August 20, at 5:00 pm (ET).



We have compiled the best actionable information we can find. We have talked extensively with the two federal agencies managing the program. We have feedback from our service providers continuing to process their applications.



Most of this information is redundant of reports published since this past Thursday, August 13. We wanted you to have a single reference if you are still working to process your application, given the delays and system faults caused by the federal electronic processing system.



Items in "quotations", below are taken verbatim from one or more of the federal notices and advisories published since August 13.




If You Can Still Not File Electronically: Federal Register Notice of 08/19

From a Notice Posted Wednesday, August 19 on BroadbandUSA.gov:



"UPDATE: RUS and NTIA announce additional measures to ensure that all pending electronic applications can be submitted by the extended application deadline of 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on August 20, 2009.



All applicants must complete and submit their core application by the extended deadline.



To the extent that any applicant has been unable to upload any of the attachments to the application by the extended deadline, it may submit those attachments on an appropriate electronic medium by hand-delivery, overnight express, or regular mail by 5:00 p.m. ET, August 24, 2009.



For more information see Federal Register Notice: Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), Notice of Funds Availability; Method of Acceptance of Supplemental Attachments.



The Notice is being provided for informational purposes only. If there is any difference between this document and the Notice officially published in the Federal Register, the Federal Register Notice is controlling."



The Meltdown

As was widely reported, system delays and faults in the Easygrants™ electronic filing system caused a spike in complaints to the NTIA-RUS jointly managed Helpdesk last week.



By Wednesday, August 12, the two agencies made the decision to both reinforce the system's servers and associated IT resources, and to add personnel hours to the Helpdesk function.



Also, t
he decision was made to extend the electronic filing deadline for "pending" applications by 6 days.



From our experience, the two most prevalent problems were incomplete processing cycles in which the application would never complete its upload cycle and just 'hang' without end, and 'kick outs' in which an application would go offline during processing, oftentimes locking out that particular Applicant.



Browser Compatibility


From a notice posted Wednesday, August 19 on BroadbandUSA.gov:



"It has come to our attention that some users are having problems where their browser stops working and hangs while using the system. We are working to identify and resolve this issue. The current workaround is to use a different browser such as Firefox. If you are having difficulty getting to screens in the system and/or uploading documents, please try to use a different browser. Please notify the Helpdesk whether or not the workaround solved the problem so we can pass on the information to other users in a timely manner. Thank you for your patience.



Please submit your application as soon as possible."



The Filing Extension

On Thursday, August 13, NTIA and RUS announced, via a Federal Register filing (download: PDF), that the application closing deadline for BIP and BTOP applications had been moved up 6 days to 5 p.m. (ET) on Thursday, August 20, 2009, for any electronic applications which were "pending" as of 5 p.m. (ET) on Friday, August 14, 2009.



Qualify as "Pending"

In order to take advantage of the application submittal extension, you must have pre-registered and started your electronic application submittal, to achieve "pending" status, prior to 5 p.m. (ET) on Friday, August 14, 2009.



Prior to that time, you should have engaged in a 5 step process outlined in the NTIA - RUS Federal Register Notice:



1. " Log into the Easygrants® System at http://www.broadbandusa.gov;



2. Select "Start a new application" under "Apply for a new grant/loan;"



3. Select one of the two choices for available funding opportunities;




4. Select "Continue;" and
5. Select "ok" when prompted "Are you sure you want to apply for the program."



Who Isn't "Pending" ?

Given the system delays and outright 'kick outs' generated by the Easygrants™ system, it is impossible to know, outside of the monitoring of the system engaged in by the federal agencies, how many applicants could not register on the system prior to the August 14 deadline to achieve "pending" status.



Document Everything

If you experience any continued system disruption impacting your ability to continue uploading your application(s) tonight and into the day on Thursday, we recommend that you take a moment and document for the NTIA-RUS Helpdesk the exact problem you encounter, and the specific impact it has on your effort.



E-mail the documentation to: Helpdesk@broadbandusa.gov



Call the Helpdesk

NTIA-RUS have added to the hours of its helpdesk resource. Live operators are now available 9 AM to 8 PM ET during the final days leading up to August 20.



Call: (888) 861-5509.



Watch the Mapping Tool

We have seen the mapping tool, which is deployed within the Easygrants™ system, issue mapping for contiguous census blocks comprising a proposed service area which we believe has inaccurate household block count data, and other block level detail.



We have not seen this in all instances of client applications, but we have seen it occur severely in several instances. If you believe the mapped data produced by the online mapping tool is producing inaccurate results, document that fact for the Helpdesk (see above) in email immediately.



Manage Your .PDFs

NTIA-RUS have determined that a lead cause of the Easygrants™ system breakdown has been the system's internal processing of .PDF document conversions. Although the agencies have worked working with their contractor to install patches to the system, the agencies still confirm that offline management of document files to be uploaded is a key to your success.



Therefore:



If at all possible, we recommend that you convert all application documents to .PDF format prior to continuing with the application upload process. Do your document conversion offline the Easygrants™ system, and then directly upload your application components in .PDF format.



"Decrease Generation of PDFs. To the extent possible, applicants should avoid generating .PDFs while still working through the application. Please generate .PDFs only once you have finished your application or when it is absolutely necessary. This will reduce lag time."



File Size Limit of 16 MB

I
n an e-mail sent out on Tuesday, August 18, NTIA-RUS confirmed a statement made to us by NTIA late last week: The Easygrants™ system has a per-application upload file size limit of 16.0 megabits.



This number did not appear in any previously published federal guidance. As the e-mail sent out to registered applicants states: "Applicants should note that uploads larger than 16 megabits will not be accepted by the system. If you do not convert your upload files to a .PDF format prior to uploading, please be sure to use another standard format such as word or excel. The system will reject zip files and html files and this will delay your application."




Take a Load Off

In addition to managing your .PDF conversions offline the Easygrants™ system, NTIA-RUS suggest the following 2 other operational methods to decrease the processing load of your application:



"Refrain from Multiple Submissions of Attachments when uploading attachments, applicants should avoid clicking the 'upload' button more than once. This will not expedite your upload."



"Submit Applications During Non-Business Hours To the extent possible, applicants should materials during non-business hours (after 8 pm EST)."



Pay Attention & Shoot Off a Flare

T
he full specifics of what NTIA, RUS, and their contractor managing the Easygrants™ system have done to upgrade the system have not been published to date.



We know that the total server capacity supporting the system has been "more than doubled" over the past week. We know that additional upgrades have been made to the core processing capacity of the system.




We trust the folks at NTIA and RUS when they tell us they are closely monitoring the operational metrics of the system for additional delays, faults, and the like.



We believe the agencies have worked hard, in a very short time, to bring a significantly greater level of
resources to augment the system. There remain many variables however.



How many applications, for example, suffered 'kick out' or excessive hang time last week, and have been placed back in queue? This and allied issues lead us to continue to be cautious in any estimate of improved system capacity and reliability at this point.




We believe there is no substitute for paying close attention to your continued application filing process. As mentioned above, document over e-mail to Helpdesk@broadbandusa.gov anything you see which negatively impacts your application filing.



If you have a moment to copy us at info@prattnetworks.com with any anomalies, we will attempt to flag any patterns we see for NTIA and RUS.



Over the past 7 days there has been no substitute for constant monitoring of BroadbandUSA.gov as the agencies have swung into action to resolve the problem. During this same period, we have put out multiple alerts here on Stimulatingbroadband.com. We will continue to report on the federal efforts to fix the system, and to prevent a repeat performance in funding Round II.



(c) Copyright MarketSYS 2009 - (c) Copyright PrattNetworks LLC 2009



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