Should the BTOP stimulus grant deadline be extended?

The recently published MuniWireless How to Get a Grant Guide is providing public and private organizations a good overview of the broadband stimulus grant application process. Because we were included in the guide’s list of consultants, our organization has been getting calls from many interested parties trying to find ways to capitalize on the BTOP grant opportunity. One consistency I have found is that everyone from public sector grant writers to network service suppliers need more time to properly evaluate these grant requests.

From small cities that are scrambling to make an inventory of what they have and to decide what they need to map out rural sections of states (see the Massachusetts RFP), it seems to be too much, too soon. In many cases, these municipalities, counties and states have been in the communications business only in specialized areas such as public safety applications, libraries or schools. The majority of their experience is limited to individual enterprise networks.

When we evaluate how to support municipalities, counties and states in their drive to improve broadband, we keep in mind the following observations:

  • States, counties and cities often employ more field personnel in the same geographic area than the private sector. This makes them ideal users of wireless broadband network applications.
  • Public sector networks normally support geo-specific agencies and commonly lack integration with their own agency counterparts.
  • Public sector agencies often own massive amounts of communication infrastructure and rights of way, but seldom have completed networks.
  • State, county and local public sector agencies often lease or own separate communication infrastructure that could be shared by other agencies in the same geographical area.
  • Utility and transportation sectors have more local area communication infrastructure available than local commercial network suppliers in the same region.
  • Even critical single agency networks such as public safety do not share a common and interoperable wireless national communications networks.

The points above demonstrate the needs of (and assets available to) economically deploy broadband wireless infrastructure in both urban and rural areas. The BTOP grants are expected to be the impetus for this infrastructure upgrade. Cities, counties, state and federal agencies are assessing their communications infrastructure as they request funds to support the rollout or completion of their broadband networks. In many cases they can even offer them as in-kind assets to meet the required 20 percent contribution to the grant requests.

However, to have all public and private sector needs and inventory evaluated by the end of August is impossible for many organizations. To do this properly, both the public and private sectors may need more time.

There is a great opportunity here to build and improve our national broadband network. Rushing into this without proper evaluation could waste billions in stimulus finding while not achieving the program’s economic goals. We need to move forward quickly, but we need to do a thorough job in ensuring that broadband maps are accurate and that communities get networks that are robust, open and easily upgradable.

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About the author

Larry Karisny is the director of the ProjectSafety Business and Technology Cluster. ProjectSafety is a technology and business non-profit focused on the deployment and future proof testing of municipal broadband wireless networks. ProjectSafety’s unique broadband wireless Community Network Integration (CNI) model addresses both technology requirements and business needs in offering a single network solution for both the public and private sector.

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Comments

  1. Here are some additional points to fuel the case for why people should demand more time to complete applications – http://bit.ly/14aoPq. There’s also a 2-question poll on the subject that you can take.

  2. Looks like the grant application completion deadline has been extended until August 20th. You must start the online application process by August 14th.

    See link below for the announcement:

    http://broadbandusa.sc.egov.usda.gov/index.htm