U.S. receives 2,200 applications for broadband funding

Applicants far exceed the amount of U.S. government money available for broadband grants and loans

WASHINGTON - Two U.S. agencies have received nearly 2,200 applications asking for about $28 billion in funding for a first round of grants and loans for broadband deployment.

The requests far outpace the $7.2 billion set aside for broadband deployment in a huge economic stimulus bill passed early this year.

Several major broadband providers, including AT&T, Comcast and Qwest, decided not to apply for funding from the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the U.S. Rural Utilities Service (RUS). But other applicants included state, local, and tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, libraries, universities, hospitals and public safety organizations, the two agencies said in a press release.

The first round of funding will distribute about $4 billion.

"Applicants requested nearly seven times the amount of funding available, which demonstrates the substantial interest in expanding broadband across the nation," Lawrence Strickling, the NTIA administrator, said in a statement. "We will move quickly but carefully to fund the best projects to bring broadband and jobs to more Americans."

President Obama's administration will focus on targeting funds to "serve areas of greatest need," Jonathan Adelstein, RUS administrator said in a statement.

The applications included $10.5 billion in matching funds from the applicants, the two agencies said.

More than 360 applications filed with the NTIA focused on building public computer centers. The total requested for public computing centers was $1.9 billion, while the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a $787 billion economic stimulus package, directed the NTIA to make at least $200 million available for such projects.

More than 320 applications asked the NTIA for a total of $2.5 billion for projects to promote sustainable demand for broadband services. The Recovery Act set aside $250 million for such projects.

Among the applicants was Level 3 Communications, a larger provider of fiber-based broadband services. Level 3 asked for $15 million with the company adding $5 million of its own money, to create new middle-mile connections to the company's network in rural areas in six states, said John Ryan, Level 3's senior vice president.

Level 3 would provide service to any last-mile broadband providers that want it, Ryan said. "We take all comers when it comes to folks who want to connect to the network," he said. "We sell services to Internet service providers, to wireless carriers, to telephone companies, to cable companies. For us, we're agnostic as to what kind of technology our customer is using. What we care about is competing for their traffic."

The National Medical Wireless Broadband Alliance, a consortium of 70 hospitals in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii, also applied for funding. The group is seeking $60 million to provide middle-mile access to those hospitals, said Steve Solomon , the organization's president.

The group's goal is to provide technology neutral, open wireless platforms that allow any wireless devices used within the hospitals to connect to existing wireless networks, Solomon said.

The focus is largely small hospitals and helping them share medical data with larger facilities, he added. "A lot of times, those hospitals are in smaller rural areas, and they don't have the funding to implement these technologies," he said.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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