The two agencies in charge of the Obama administration's broadband stimulus program have announced plans to streamline the process and the remaining funding in just one round, instead of two.
The USDA's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) also released a request for information seeking input on how to improve the second round of bidding, which will allocate about $3.2 billion in loans and grants.
"We are listening to applicants, reviewing applications received, and all indications suggest a need to revisit the application process. We will consider changes in the next Notice of Funding Availability to make the process more 'applicant friendly' from beginning to end," said Jonathan Adelstein, administrator of the RUS.
Specifically, the agencies are looking for recommendations on how to streamline the application process and balance the public's need for transparency with the applicants' need to protect proprietary data.
The agencies are also seeking input on whether to focus second-round funding on projects that create "comprehensive communities" between anchor institutions like hospitals and schools. Such an effort would require installing high-capacity middle-mile facilities.
In addition, the RFI also includes other issues like whether the definition of "remote area" is too restrictive. The RUS and NTIA will utilize the feedback received in response to the RFI to set the rules for the second funding round, which the agencies expect to announce through a Notice of Funds Availability early next year.
The NTIA and the RUS were supposed to begin awarding grant money this month, but the disbursement of the funds was pushed out until December after both agencies said they needed more time to review the applications.
The two agencies are currently reviewing applications from the first round of the program, which produced about 2,200 applications requesting nearly $28 billion in funding – almost seven times the amount of funding available in that round. The agencies expect to begin announcing up to $4 billion in loans or grants in this round in December.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided a total of $7.2 billion to the NTIA and RUS for broadband projects.