ACA Discusses Stimulus Funds At Annual D.C. Summit

NTIA, RUS hope to have first notice of funding availability ready by June
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The American Cable Association, which represents 900-plus smaller and mid-sized cable operators, got right down to
business Tuesday, getting insight on how to tap into billions in stimulus funds even before ACA President welcomed the
group to its annual D.C. summit.

By definition, or more accurately lack of definition, representatives of the National Telecommunications & Information
Administration and the USDA's Rural Utilities Service, could only provide broad strokes. That is because they have yet
to decide on just how they will hand out, and to whom, the $7.2 billion in economic stimulus grant/loan money they are
overseeing.

But they did say that they hoped to have the details hammered out and the first notice of funding availability (NOFA)
ready by June, and at least some of the money handed out by fall.

For its part, RUS will only give applicants 60 days after that NOFA to come back with their proposals. That's
according to Mary Campanola of RUS, who said that she recognized that was not much time, and that there would probably be more time for responding to the second and third NOFAs.

Tom Power, former FCC staffer and three weeks into his posting as a senior advisor to NTIA,  also said he hoped to have some of the money out by fall, and acknowledged that it might be frustrating for operators not to have the details yet on how the grants will be given out.

Still to be determined are the definitions of "unserved" and "underserved" areas, both of which the stimulus bill
talks about as needing help with broadband deployment. And even the definition of broadband has not yet been set.

Campanola did give some tips on how to present the grants, suggesting that economic stimulus, as in sustainable
infrastructure and jobs, were priority one for her program. She said applicants might get extra points for helping out
with public safety, but the key was to demonstrate how it would stimulate the economy.

Tom Gleason, from New Wave Communications, asked Campanola whether she thought some of the money could be used to buy and upgrade systems where it would not be economical to start from scratch. She said yes, so long as it doesn't take five years to do, she said. "It doesn't take us five years to do anything," he said, suggesting the business moved to quickly for that kind of time frame.

Power said those who can move switfly on a smaller scale could be in good shape. He told B&C after the session that NTIA was still working on how grants might be applied across disciplines. There is also stimulus money for telemedicine and energy that could have broadband components.

She also said that although only 75% of the grant/loan money in the RUS program (it has $2.2 bilion to dole out) had
to go to rural areas, she expected 100% of it would go there.

Power pointed out that the NTIA's $4.5 billion figure is actually $3.75 billion after money is taken out for broadband
mapping, community computer centers, administration and other things.

On another panel, both NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow and Public Knowledge President Gig Sohn said the money was not really enough even to "move the needle." But Matt Polka, ACA president, suggested it might do so for some of his members.

Campanola advised her audience to partner with others, including state and local authorities, and to come in prepared
with a business plan, budget, system design, and to star preparing that now, even before knowing whether they
qualified, she conceded. She also told operators they may want to apply for both RUS and NTIA grants (RUS is only for
rural, but NTIA is for rural, urban and suburban), though she quickly added that they needed to make it clear they
were applying under both programs since they would not be paying twice for the same thing.

She also suggested that given the 60-day turnaround for the first NOFA, that money would be concentrated on shovel-
ready projects and likely established companies ready to dig in, though she said those could be of any size. She said
RUS would comply with whatever definitions NTIA comes up with for unserved, underserved and broadband.

Power did not have any insight into what those definitions were. He said that there had been some 1,600 comments and they were "all over the place."

He did say that the FCC's four basic principles of Internet access would be the baseline, but that is already in the
statute.

He pointed out that anyone getting the grant money (NTIA has $4.7 billion) must demonstrate that the project would not
have been done without the stimulus funds, so it could not just subsidize ongoing operations. It also must take into
account whether an applicant is a disadvantaged small business and how the project affects anchor institutions like
hospitals and schools.

Both Power and Campanola said that they would learn from the first NOFA and apply that knowledge to later rounds,
conceding there was some experimentation involved.

ACA is looking to get a chunk of that money. ACA General Counsel Chris Cinnamon said he thought its members were
"uniquely positioned" to do that given its proximity to those unserved and underserved areas, its relationships to
local communities and governments and experience serving target populations like the elderly, and anchor institutions
like schools.

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