The rules have been simplified for the second round of federal broadband applications, but there are now two sets of rules to consider. Are you still in the running?The new rules are out for the second round of broadband stimulus funding – and with them comes good news and bad news for applicants.
RUS’s last-mile focus actually could become a negative for communities wanting to band together for countywide or other larger-scale networks. You can’t create a uniform last-mile system for several dozen towns without some serious backhaul action, requiring middle-mile infrastructure, and RUS isn’t funding middle-mile. Communities that do want to work together, and also to apply for RUS funding, may choose to build hybrid wired-wireless networks, in which the fiber functions doubly, to serve both last and middle mile purposes.
Small towns may consider going it alone and not worrying about getting tripped up on the middle-mile technicality. But alas, the reality is there may be no “end” in sight for RUS if they have to wade through over a billion dollars worth of individual small town applications by Sept 10. (I do more handicapping of NOFA 2 over at my blog.)
“If broadband is to be, then it is up to me”
Your burning question at this point may be, “should we even bother?”
It may be a week before the people now on the sidelines watching Round 1 unfold decide if they join this next Dash for Dollars. People who applied in Round 1 but haven’t received invitations to make to due diligence reviews are losing hope; without feedback, it will be difficult for them to make adjustments for their next move.
One of the truly unfair unintended consequences of the attempt to allocate so much money so quickly is that logic and clear direction in the grant process were early casualties (along with any semblance of a normal life for those directly involved). Given what’s gone before, is it really a bad thing to consider walking away from the stimulus game? Well, it depends.
Hunter Goosmann is General Manager of ERC Broadband, a nonprofit in rural North Carolina with a grant proposal in the hopper still waiting for the call. I’ve talked to several people who asked for waivers of the 20% matching funds requirement, and I get the impression these proposals are getting a lower priority (unofficially) in the queue. This situation certainly doesn’t encourage applicants to jump into NOFA 2.
“Most rural communities, and in particular municipal or nonprofit networks that operate in rural areas, simply do not have monies set aside that can be used for matching funds,” says Goosmann. “I mean, if funds were available to these communities, there would be greater infrastructure in the first place. It’s a Catch-22.” The bottom line is, if you see a more practical path to get broadband in your community faster, then explore it, aggressively.
Last week, after presenting one alternative to stimulus grants (economic development fundraising), I received feedback that indicates this is a viable option, including a comment in my LinkedIn group from Dale Gregory, Executive Vice President at Cherrystone Management Consultants. “We are discussing partnerships with a number of organizations and investors,” states Gregory, “and have determined that the BTOP path is not the best choice given the uncertainty of the process, likely opposition by incumbent carriers, and low probability of success given the volume of grant applications.”
Goosmann sees local investors as a logical path forward. “A 300+ mile fiber network was built in rural western North Carolina with funds from two local investors, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians and Drake Enterprises. It becomes more difficult when one reaches out to a county that has little in the way of a community partner (or partners) who can invest. At that point, one must be creative to find a solution that works.”
There’s a lot to consider, but it you plan to go for NOFA 2, strap on your thinking cap now. The Ides of March isn’t that far away. Here are some tips to help you form a NOFA 2 strategy.