Submitted by Daniel S. Cohen
Cohen Law Group
Daniel S. Cohen
Much has been published on the recent federal stimulus legislation, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including funding opportunities for municipal projects. These opportunities are typically discussed with respect to transportation, education, energy and housing projects. Very little has been reported, however, on the substantial stimulus funding that is available for municipal broadband projects, especially in the area of public safety.
The stimulus package allocated allocates a total of $7.2 billion for broadband-related projects through two programs: 1) $4.7 billion for the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (“BTOP”) in the Department of Commerce; and 2) $2.5 billion for the Distance Learning, Telemedicine and Broadband Program (DLTB”) in the Department of Agriculture. The specific agencies charged with disbursing the funds are the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) for the BTOP program and the Rural Utilities Service for the DLTB program. The federal share of any projects funded by these programs may not exceed 80% (in other words, there is a 20% local match).
The grant recipients for these programs expressly include local governments. The Act requires that the agencies disperse all monetary awards by September 30, 2010 and that the projects supported by these awards be substantially completed within two years of receiving a grant. Local governments may never again see such a tremendous opportunity to receive federal assistance for broadband technology projects. It is important, therefore, that local officials learn about these programs so as not to miss out on any timely opportunities. Given the higher funding allotment for the BTOP program and the space constraints of this article, we will focus on the BTOP program here.
The purposes of BTOP are as follow: 1) providing access to broadband service in unserved areas; 2) improving access to broadband services in underserved areas; 3) providing broadband education, awareness, training, access, equipment, and support; 4) improving access to, and use of, broadband service by public safety agencies; and 5) stimulating the demand for broadband, economic growth, and job creation. (emphasis added) Based on our firm’s experience in representing municipalities in cable and telecommunications matters, improving public safety communications is a universal need among local governments. The opportunity now exists to receive federal grants to fund these needs.
Grants awarded under the BTOP may be used for many purposes, including acquiring equipment for broadband services; constructing and deploying broadband service related infrastructure; and constructing and deploying broadband facilities that improve public safety broadband communications services. While the NTIA has not yet specified the types of eligible public safety projects, it appears that such projects may include mobile data units for public safety vehicles, digital surveillance camera systems, and public safety interoperability enhancement. Our discussions with the NTIA have revealed that the agency will be receptive to projects that include partnerships with other community anchors, including other levels of government, school districts, or hospitals.
To be eligible for a financial award under the BTOP, an applicant must submit an application during one of the three rounds of grant periods. As of today, the first round is expected to be August-September, 2009. The second round is currently scheduled for November- December, 2009, and the third round is scheduled for April-May 2010. It is expected that one-third of the available funding will be awarded during each round.
The application must meet the criteria outlined by the NTIA which requires, among other things, that the applicant provide a detailed explanation of how any award received will be used to carry out the purposes of the Act in an efficient and expeditious manner, including a showing that the project would not have been implemented during the grant period without federal grant assistance. The applicant must show that it has the ability to meet the 20% match requirement and disclose any other federal or state funding that the applicant receives to which the application relates.
The full text and of the BTOP is found in Section 6001 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The NTIA’s website, www.ntia.doc.gov/broadbandgrants, and the RUS’s website, www.usda.gov/rus/telecomalso provides important information. Finally, many local governments are employing consultants to guide them through the application process, due to complexity of these grant programs, the fact that they are brand new, and the short timeframe for application submission. If you have any questions regarding these broadband stimulus grants, please feel free to contact Dan Cohen (412-447-0130 x11 or [email protected]) or Phil Fraga (412-447-0130 x12 or [email protected]).
Daniel S. Cohen
Cohen Law Group
Pittsburgh, PA 15238
Phone: 412.447.0130 ext. 11