Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Broadband Stimulus Funding Applicants: This Is How the Incumbents Get to Push Back 09/15/09 Following a day of a federal website going live and dark, of questions and speculation on the Twitter channels focused on the federal broadband stimulus program, one sees the next phase of the $7.2 billion program start to come into view.

This so-called Step 2 of funding Round I is when the incumbents get to push back at Round I funding applicants.

The federal website which we first reported about yesterday has been a semi-public work in progress for the last 30 hours. This site, which will eventually be linked into the multi-agency site, is the emerging online venue through which incumbent service providers will have their chance to challenge the "proposed service areas" of applicants.

The site, when it is enabled for online viewing (it is periodically taken offline), is: here.

The online application presentation tool is replete with maps of the proposed service areas, and their underlying census blocks as
documented by applicants for Round I funding. The site is now being worked on, prior to a presently undisclosed "go live" date, by personnel of the Rural Utilities Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (RUS). We believe the agency's selected contractor is also supporting the effort. For much of yesterday the site displayed a searchable database of applications. For most of today access to the applicant database was disabled.

What is Going On Here?
While the hard working folks at USDA media relations work to clarify and confirm information, we seek not to be speculative, but informed, and hopefully informing. Below is our best estimate of what we are seeing via the pre-launch federal site.

We can be wrong, but modesty aside, we've correctly called several other policy milestones (RUS legacy programs as ARRA guidelines, and NOFA-1 strategic highpoints) in the broadband stim program.

Significant Date / Significant Next Steps
Yesterday, September 14, was the earliest date possible, under federal rules issued on July 1, for the release by RUS and its sister agency, the NTIA at the Department of Commerce, of the lists of selected applicants being passed into Round I, Step 2. This second cycle of Round I is also referred to as the "due diligence phase" (NOFA-1, line 1042, pg. 48).

It is not coincidental that yesterday and today marked the initial look the "broadband stim" national community of practitioners has had at the RUS "List of Public Notice Filings (PNF)" on the site referenced above. We believe the list of Round I, Step 2 applicants and the "List of Public Notice Filings" is / will be (when finalized) the same list. It is this list which will both be passed to governors' offices around the county for state input, and which will be reviewed by provider incumbents for their potential challenges.

Incumbent Push Back: The Word According to NOFA-1
The agency regulations (what we call NOFA-1) issued on July 1, applicable to the current Round I funding cycle of the broadband stim program give to "existing service providers an opportunity to submit to the agencies information regarding their service offerings" (NOFA-1, line 1597, pg. 72).

During a 30 day period from the official release of the "Public Notice of the proposed funded service areas of each Broadband Infrastructure application at," incumbent providers may submit their own data about those proposed areas. Such information may include statements by incumbents that they have existing and operating broadband networks in the same areas.

If an incumbent can prove that a proposed service area is not, as the applicant claims, unserved or underserved "both RUS and NTIA reserve the right" to either "reclassify" or "reject the application"
(NOFA-1, line 1604, pg. 72).

When the test site's database was accessible yesterday, we inspected features that allowed incumbents to select the specific portions of an applicant's mapping and census blocks for challenge.

What is a Public Notice Filing (PNF) ?
The RUS temporary site uses the term Public Notice Filing (PNF). Clearly the PNF is the total information filing required by NOFA-1 as the "Notice of Proposed Funded Service Areas." This
key purpose of the site is seen in the wording posted as of this afternoon which reads:

List of Public Notice Filings (PNF)
This page enables users to view and/or respond to all published Public Notice Filings (PNFs) for BIP and BTOP Infrastructure applications. In order to respond to a PNF, users will need to click on the PNF they are interested in and click on the “File a Response” button at the bottom of the PNF.

Please note that existing broadband service providers responding to PNFs will need to file a separate
response for each individual Service Area within an application in order for their existing services to be considered when determining the eligibility of BIP and BTOP Infrastructure applications.

If you experience technical difficulties or if you have questions about
using this tool, please contact our Help Desk at 1-800-457-3642 then press 225, or email

USDA Works to Clarify Public Information
We greatly appreciate the work of the media relations personnel at USDA to clarify and confirm for us, over the past 48 hours, the myriad of facts we have raised with them.

Our statements here are our own, based on our conversations with federal officials and our fellow private consultants supporting the application process. We play by the rules of public information about federal programs and policies: It isn't really public information unless it is stated as both official information and attributable to an identified official of an agency.

Right now we have neither for this particular issue, as our information requests are being processed, and as facts are being verified. We therefore must say again that our analysis is based on informed estimates. Any incorrect information is purely of our own making. We will post updates as information is made available by USDA, or by NTIA.
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