On November 10, 2009, RUS and NTIA announced that they will hold only one additional round of funding for the Broadband Initiatives Program (“BIP”) and the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (“BTOP”), which are the vehicles for the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funding included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Program administrators initially had planned for two additional rounds of funding.
In addition to announcing this change, the agencies released a Request For Information (“RFI”) seeking public comment on certain aspects of the BIP and the BTOP prior to initiating the second and final round of funding for those programs. The RFI requests comment on both the administration of the programs and the policy goals underlying that administration. The RFI requests the following information regarding the administration of the programs:
- In what ways should RUS and NTIA streamline the applications to reduce the burden on applications?
- How can the agency better balance the public’s interest in transparency and openness with stakeholders’ legitimate interest in maintaining the confidentiality of proprietary data?
- Should the Programs continue to require that infrastructure applications consisting of proposed funded service areas which are at least 75% rural be submitted to both the BIP and the BTOP?
The RUS and NTIA also sought comment on the following policy issues:
- Should RUS and/or NTIA focus on, or limit, second round funding to projects that will deliver middle mile infrastructure facilities into a group of communities and/or connect key anchor institutions within those communities?
- What, if any, adjustments to the interconnection and nondiscrimination requirements should be made during the second round of funding?
- Should RUS and NTIA allocate a portion of the remaining funds to specific population groups (e.g., tribal entities, public housing, etc.)?
- Should RUS and NTIA modify the rules prohibiting the sale or lease of BTOP- or BIP-funded broadband facilities?
- Should the definitions applicable to BIP and BTOP be modified to clarify or expand the definition of broadband services, unserved areas, and underserved areas?
The input the agencies expect to receive from this process is intended to inform the second round of funding – the previous round of funding will remain unaffected. NTIA and RUS expect to announce the second round of funding through a Notice of Funds Availability early next year.
Comments on the RFI must be received 14 days after publication of the RFI in the Federal Register, and can be submitted via e-mail.
Kelley Drye's Communications Practice Group has extensive experience advising clients on network management/net neutrality-related issues. If you have questions or comments, or would like to participate in the upcoming rulemaking, please contact a member of our practice group.