Big Broadband Stimulus Grants for Middle-Mile Networks in NC and Michigan
Drew Clark, Chairman, BroadbandBreakfast.com
WASHINGTON, January 20, 2010 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Wednesday continued its rolling award of broadband stimulus grants, doling out $63 million for four broadband grants in Massachusetts, Michigan and North Carolina.
With the announcements, the NTIA and the Rural Utilities Service have awarded $253 million in broadband stimulus grants, or about 3.5 percent of the total broadband stimulus funds. The money has been spent on 23 projects so far, or an average of $11 million per grant.
The largest winners in Tuesday's announcements were the Merit Network in Michigan, which won $33 million; and MCNC in North Carolina, which won $28.2 million. Both were for infrastructure grants to build fiber-optic networks within their states, connecting households and anchor institutions to broadband facilities.
The University of Massachusetts at Lowell won a broadband adoption grant of $780,000 to connect Cambodian immigrants and seniors to broadband facilities in Lowell and Merrimack Valley; and Michigan State University won $895,000 in a public computing center grant.
Separately, the NTIA confirmed that it will also begin disclosing "losers" as well as "winners" in broadband stimulus applications – once applicants have begun to receive their rejection letters.
On the NTIA's searchable database, under the "status" window, individuals may currently search projects by these categories: "Awarded," "Ineligible," "Withdrawn" and "Received."
In North Carolina, MCNC CEO Joe Freddoso said that the grant "was everything that we asked for."
"Our application was to scale to meet the needs of educational institutions," said Feddoso. "We also saw the opportunity to work with the private sector to help catalyze opportunities."
MCNC's $28.2 million infrastructure grant was submitted with an additional $11.7 million in matching funds and in-kind contributions to build a 494-mile middle-mile broadband network passing almost half the population of North Carolina in 37 counties.
Of the $11.7 million, $4 million was invested from the portfolio of MCNC, a non-profit organization, and $4 million was invested by the project's for-profit partner, FRC, said Freddoso.
FRC is a subsidiary of Scana, a publicly-traded electricity and natural gas provider. These utilities have access to extensive fiber-optic lines used to help monitor electrical grids, said Freddoso.
The MCNC network will build new rings in the western and eastern regions of the state, which will connect to 685 miles of existing infrastructure in the urbanized central region, expanding the reach of the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN), an established broadband service for community anchor institutions in the state.
In Michigan, the Merit Network's $33.3 million infrastructure grant was supplemented by an additional $8.3 million in matching funds to build a 955-mile advanced fiber-optic network through 32 counties in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, said NTIA.
The Michigan project also intends to directly connect 44 community anchor institutions and will serve an area covering 886,000 households, 45,800 businesses, and an additional 378 anchor institutions.
On Friday, NTIA announced a second round of broadband stimulus applications will be accepted through March 15, 2010. The rules for applying to this funding round have been modified to make the application process more user-friendly and better target program resources, said NTIA.
"High-speed Internet access is the lifeblood of today's economy," Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement. "These grants are an important step toward expanding high-speed Internet access into the unserved and underserved areas of the country."
"The level of interest in this program has been extraordinary, and is yet another indicator of the critical role broadband plays in achieving durable, sustainable economic growth," said Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling.
"Like the grants announced today, the strongest proposals are the ones that have taken a truly comprehensive view of the communities to be served and have engaged as many key members of the communities as possible in developing the projects," said Strickling.
At least one broadband expert said that critics of the NTIA and RUS may be proved wrong.
"All of NTIA's stimulus awards so far have been for very impressive projects, and many more are in the pipeline," said attorney James Baller of Baller Herbst. "Within a few weeks, some of the most vocal critics of NTIA may be eating their words."