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Recovery Act: Big Apple Expects Little Bite

Don’t expect New York City to see a huge amount in stimulus money from the first round of the broadband section of the Recovery Act, as most will go to rural areas.

That was the word from local government officials at a public meeting “to help galvanize interested applicants” last week in the Chinatown district of NYC. More than 125 government and school representatives, people from non-profits and non-government organizations (NGOs), and even a few from the telecom industry packed a small conference room at the Downtown Community TV center. (See Accessing Obama's Broadband Billions and Recovery Act: The Undecided Remain.)

”We’re not optimistic that there is going to be a lot of money in this first round; this is a rural round,” said Mitchel Ahlbaum, deputy commissioner and general counsel for franchise administration and planning at the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications for The City of New York.

In the first round of funding, there is around $2.4 billion available under the rural Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP), none of which, naturally, is likely to be earmarked for NYC. Meanwhile, up to $1.6 billion in the Broadband Technologies Initiative Program (BTOP) will be available -- this is the money that the Big Apple is more likely to get a slice of.

There may be more funds available for cities in later rounds. Up to $4.7 billion will eventually be paid out under BTOP funding by the end of September 2010.

Currently, Ahlbaum is thinking about the city putting together an application that focuses on providing more broadband access in public centers and more Internet hardware in homes in poorer communities. He couldn't say exactly how much money the city will ask for in its application. Part of the reason for the meeting, however, was to get more proposals and find more partners before finalizing applications.

Councilwoman Gayle Brewer added that the city wants to concentrate on providing more broadband to schools, poorer homes, and industrial areas, such as the Sunset Park district in Brooklyn.

There didn’t appear to be many representatives from the service provider side of the house at the meeting. Mary Pagano, an AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) regional VP, was a vocal part of the gathering, while stressing that the operator hasn’t taken an official line on how the BTOP funds should be used.

”As a taxpayer, I want to make sure that this money is spent wisely,” she told Unstrung. “If people are just looking for ways to get [broadband] for cheaper or free, that hurts all of us. It’s better if we all work together to find the places that are truly underserved.”

For instance, Pagano told the meeting that broadband was widely available in the city via 3G cellular networks. With that in mind, she suggested that the city use some school funding to outfit NYC school kids with iPhones so that they could have Internet access at home and in school. Over $100 billion has been earmarked for educational purposes in the stimulus funds package. Like the broadband money, however, it is going to take time for it all to be allocated.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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