We are at the beginning of the next phase of the broadband stimulus process, which is a good time to remember just what the money is intended to do.
Vice President Joe Biden was set to visit Seneca High School in Erie, Penn., to announce that guidelines -- in the form of government document called the Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA) -- are available. Other luminaries, including new FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and the secretaries of commerce and agriculture, also will make the trip.
In short, the philosophical debates are ending and the actual awards are set to start. InformationWeek blogger Michael Higgins takes a look at what this really means. His first point is that the money in the package -- $7.2 billion-is a lot for you and me, but not a lot when it is positioned compared to total telecom spending. The big deal, then, is not breadth of the expenditure itself, but the fact that it is being applied to bringing broadband to rural areas. The post suggests that the real goal is to do thing such as bring home-based employment, modern industry and health care to these areas.
As I wrote in a feature in February, the process of doling out billions of dollars in a politically charged atmosphere is almost certain to be rife with confusion-unintentional and premeditated. The biggest part of the food fight was whether the lion's share of the funding would be controlled by the legacy telecommunications companies or startups and smaller firms. An interview I did with Russ Sharer, the vice president of marketing for Occam Networks, in March suggested that the situation was extremely confusing, but that the Feds were doing their best to keep people informed.
A process now is in place. Broadcasting & Cable does a good job of highlighting what the rules, which stipulate downlink speeds of 768 kilobits per second (kbps) downstream and 200 kbps upstream, look like. Companies who have been attending the meetings no doubt were not surprised.
The release of the NOFA is a milestone in the process that signals the beginning of the work of actually deploying new infrastructure and enhancing what already is in the ground and on the air. While it's been pointed out that a number of things will push the actual dollar value of the funding beyond the $7.2 billion, the real bottom line is that this is a great opportunity to bring more and better broadband to more folks who haven't had equal in the past.