Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Who Wants Broadband Stimulus Money?

Last week Bloomberg News ran a piece titled Verizon, AT&T May Tell U.S. to Keep $7.2 Billion Stimulus Money. The broadband portion of the stimulus package intends to provide $7.2 Billion to bring high-speed Internet services to unserved and underserved regions of the United States.

The money will be distributed by two federal organizations - the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA, part of the Commerce Department) will handle $4.7 Billion and the Agriculture Department will handle $2.5 Billion. Each organization will define what unserved and underserved means with grants then awarded. Law requires all grants be awarded by September 30, 2010 and at least one project must be funded in each state.

Who's going to apply? The Bloomber piece says:

Officials at NTIA say more than 2,000 companies, local governments, community groups and consumer advocates have contacted them about the agency’s rules for disbursing its stimulus money. The first public meeting on the funds, held jointly by NTIA, the Agriculture Department and the FCC on March 10, drew an overflow crowd of more than 500 to the Commerce Department.

Looking at specifics, Bloomberg says:

Rural mid-sized carriers such as CenturyTel Inc., Embarq Corp. and Frontier Communications Corp. are likely to push aggressively for grants, said Jessica Zufolo, an analyst with Medley Global Advisors in Washington.

What's going on with Verizon andAT&T ? Bloomberg quotes the following:

Unlike the businesses that welcomed the $787 billion stimulus package approved by Congress last month, the two biggest U.S. phone companies have reservations. They’re urging the government not to help other companies compete with them through broadband grants or to set new conditions on how Internet access should be provided.

“We don’t have any plans to apply; we also have not made a decision not to apply,” Verizon Executive Vice President Thomas Tauke told reporters last month. “We’re certainly going to participate in those discussions to the extent that we can.”

“We do not have our hand out seeking government funds,” James Cicconi, AT&T’s senior executive vice president, told reporters March 11. While the company is “open to considering things that might help the economy and might help our customers at the same time,” he said AT&T’s primary focus for broadband is its own investment program.

The Bloomberg piece also says the companies (Verizon and AT&T) have remained noncommittal as they lobby to shape rules for the grants.

High speed access is critical for those that live, work or study in an unserved or underserved areas and it would be nice to see these two giant carriers involved.

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