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April 23, 2009 11:22 AM

As Winter Thaws, Broadband Stimulus Dollars Still Frozen

In talking with some of my north-lying fiber-deploying friends I'm learning that spring has arrived and they're ready to start deploying, only they can't. Why? Because the dollars they need to bring the best broadband to rural America are still locked up in the gears of government.

In no way, shape, or form am I trying to begrudge our hard-working administrators and officials at NTIA and RUS for taking their time to think through and develop the rules that will determine who can get what in terms of subsidies.

Instead I first feel obligated to reiterate that if we want to see any serious BTOP-stimulated deployment this year in northern states the clock is officially ticking.

Cold can set in as early as September up there--and I should know being born and raised in Minnesota--so the window of opportunity to get networks built is much narrower than in southern states, some of which can continue deploying throughout the year.

Yet if you look at the pace things appear to be going at, with the rules coming out the beginning of June and then grants not going out the door likely until August at the earliest, you can see how we run the risk of little to nothing getting done to connect the underserved this year in rural states.

This is especially troubling as the intent of the overall stimulus package was to get money into the system quickly. To create as many jobs as fast as possible.

So the question becomes: is this the best we can do? Can government not find new ways to get money out the door in a timelier manner? Can government move at the speed of the market?

The answer that I've been advocating for is a resounding "Yes!" And the way to accomplish this goal is to establish a fast-track partial loan guarantee program.

It's possible that RUS in particular could institute a program like this as early as the beginning of May. By mid-May they could be distributing guarantees, and that could then get private capital flowing by June.

So in other words, by the time government's ready to start accepting grant applications, these guarantees could already be stimulating deployment.

I urge everyone reading this, especially our friends in government, to not accept that the best we can do is get money out by the end of the summer, because doing so essentially means we're not going to stimulate any deployment in northern states this year.

Instead we must be strongly considered all options to get these subsidies transformed into deployment ASAP. In this way we can both live up to the goals of the overall stimulus while also not limiting the opportunities for northern states to benefit from this just as much as southern states.

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