To the latter point, the agencies are issuing a 10-page request for information asking for advice on how to speed things up or improve the rules behind the funding. (See NTIA, RUS Streamline Recovery Act.)
The objective is to "get the funds out the door faster," said Jonathan Adelstein, an RUS administrator, in the agencies' press release issued yesterday.
The first round of $7.2 billion in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was supposed to be dispersed by now but has been delayed until December, and the Obama administration has been taking flak about the slow pace of federal stimulus spending in general.
The agencies were taken by surprise by the number of applications received -- 2,200 in all -- asking for a combined $28 billion, or seven times the amount that's supposed to be given out in Round 1.
The RFI actually isn't a new move by the agencies. They issued a similar RFI in March, as the ARRA process was just getting started, and ended up receiving 1,000 suggestions, which were published in the Federal Register on July 9. (Maybe one way to speed up the process would be to avoid reading 1,000 suggestions.)
The RFI seeks advice on many possible changes, including:
- A less complicated application to begin with. Many applicants complained that that first step is too much of a hassle. It's probably really boring, too.
- A Round 2 focus on "comprehensive community" projects, middle-mile work that would link institutions such as schools, libraries, healthcare facilities, and public safety organizations.
- Emphasis, for a portion of the funds, on specific population groups -- Native Americans or public computer centers, for example.
- Less restrictive definitions of "unserved," "underserved," and "remote area," so more projects could be eligible for funds. (That's based on complaints from carriers, according to the RFI, but you'd think that adding more projects would slow the process down even more.)
- A new definition of "broadband" that includes a high-speed tier.
- Using only Federal staff and contractors, rather than unpaid experts, to review the applications.
Deadline for suggestions would be 14 days after the RFI is published in the Federal Register.
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading