The Government's Broadband Bucks Trickle Out

The federal government’s ambitious plan to dispense $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus bucks is finally happening with the announcement of $182 million in government grants. Those grants are matched by $46 million in private or local government funds for a total of 18 projects to be detailed later today. Yes, America, the government has allocated 3 percent of its broadband stimulus bucks with less than a year left to go in the entire process.

This is the first allocation for the first tranche of grant applicants. Back in July the USDA and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced that they would allocate $4.1 billion in grant funds between them in the first of three allocation processes. The process has since been whittled down to two tranches of funding with the initial call for applicants receiving 2,200 applications asking for $28 billion.

In a conference call last night, reporters pressed the heads of both the NTIA program and the USDA’s program about the delays so far, but both evaded the questions. Larry Strickling, assistant secretary for communications and information at the Department of Commerce and the administrator for the NTIA, assured folks that it would be able to allocate the NTIA’s $1.6 billion portion of the first tranche by the end of February as planned.

Based on the original July commitments, the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) needs to allocate $2.5 billion in grant money. However, a release out today disclosing the upcoming stimulus spending by both the NTIA and the RUS only mentions $2 billion in total grants to be allocated over the next 75 days, not the original $4.1 billion. This has me wondering if the RUS allocations are running behind schedule. If the NTIA expects to allocate all of its $1.6 billion before the end of February, then that leaves the RUS allocating $400 million — or $2.1 billion less than it originally planned under its July commitments.

Despite the questions, the relative lateness of these grants and the scarcity of project announcements so far, here’s the breakdown of the $182 million getting doled out: The RUS has allocated $53.8 million to eight projects and has found matching funds of a little more than $12 million, for a total of $66 million. The NTIA has approved $129 million in projects matched by $34 million in other funds for 10 projects, with four of them focused on the middle-mile infrastructure.

We’ll update the story with a list of the projects getting funded later this morning after a press conference. If you’re looking for more details, check out the report issued along with the initial announcement.