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TIA Weighs In On Improvements For Second Round of Broadband Stimulus Funding

The government agencies responsible for handing out over $7 billion in broadband stimulus money are getting plenty of advice on how to improve its second and final round of grants and loans.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration and Rural Utilities Service have been collecting public comments on how to improve the process after getting criticism from the industry, Congress and elsewhere over how it handled the first round of bidding, winners for which are expected to be announced in the next couple of weeks.

The Telecommunications Industry Association, for example, filed comments Monday asking both agencies to focus on last-mile projects (getting broadband to more folks) and adoption efforts (getting those with access to sign up).

Joining a growing chorus, the group also said that the program should allow any rural areas to get money. One criticism leveled by powerful members of Congress was of the definition of "rural" in the first round, which excluded anybody within 50 miles of an urban area.

The TIA also asked for clarification of the rules of the road, also echoing a general criticism of the program.

The American Cable Association said that more of its members--medium and small-market cable operators--would have applied for the money save for "funding restrictions and cumbersome barriers" in the first round of bidding. Only 83 of over 900 members applied in that first round.

To encourage more members, says ACA, the agencies should modify the 10-year prohibition on selling the funded project, provide more flexibility on its first-lien rule, which puts the government at the head of the line for payback of loans, focus on speed rather than penetration in the definition of underserved, and more.

US Telecom's wish list includes not discouraging its network members with too tough non-discrimination and interconnection obligations, and requiring winners to demonstrate both the technical and financial ability to complete the proposed projects.

NTIA and RUS are dividing up the task of ubiquitous broadband deployment with the FCC, providing near-term money for reaching unserved and underserved areas, while the FCC takes a longer view with a national broadband plan to do the same thing.