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Following up on its statement from the first round of broadband stimulus funding, Idaho's Department of Administration has filed an application for more than $6 million in federal funding to help develop the Idaho Education Network (IEN). According to the application, the money will be used for 24 "anchor sites" in 15 rural communities, but the summary form of the application printed in the directory did not specify where these sites or communities were, but said that it would make broadband available to 5887 unserved households. The wording is crucial.

Idaho Applies For Broadband Stimulus Funds

Following up on its statement from the first round of broadband stimulus funding, Idaho’s Department of Administration has filed an application for more than $6 million in federal funding to help develop the Idaho Education Network (IEN).

According to the application, the money will be used for 24 “anchor sites” in 15 rural communities, but the summary form of the application printed in the directory did not specify where these sites or communities were, but said that it would make broadband available to 5887 unserved households.

The wording is crucial. The IEN project came under significant criticism during the last legislative session, amid claims of overbuilding, or installing network infrastructure where it already exists. Overbuilding is a problem not only because it wastes money but because it competes with the private vendors who had already set up networks in the areas. In addition, the agency overseeing the projects, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, came under its own criticism for giving grants to areas that already had coverage.

The fact that the application says “unserved” and not “underserved,” indicates that people will get broadband Internet who didn’t have it before, as opposed to simply improving service that people already have, without providing service to any new people. In comparison, in a competing application from Qwest — which asks for $350 million for a 14-state project — living units were categorized as “upgraded or newly served,” meaning that the result could simply be that existing users would get faster broadband, and that users without it might still be without it; the company did not say what percentage of residents in each state could end up with broadband Internet access. It is also not clear what relationship there is between the application from Qwest — which is responsible for building the IEN — and that for the IEN itself.

One applicant rejected in the first round submitted a new application in the second round: Direct Communications Rockland Inc., which asked for $1.6 million in grants and $670,000 in loans to provide up to 3 Mbps to 451 households and 25 businesses in the Southern Idaho communities of Sterling, Springfield, and Pingree. The first round asked for $2.24 million in grants.

New applications included:

* Midvale Telephone Exchange asked for $888,000 in grants and $381,000 in loans to provide 20 Mbps service to 205 homes and businesses in Stanley, creating or saving 10 jobs.

* Shoshone-Bannock Tribes asked for $5 million for the Fort Hall Reservation.

* Greenwire Broadband asked for $39 million in grants and $91 million in loans for a project covering Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, but the summary did not go into any detail about the project.

* Inland Telephone Co. asked for $2.8 million in grants and $1.2 million in loans for Lenore, located along the Clearwater River in Nez Perce County in the north central portion of Idaho.

* Potlatch Telephone Co. asked for $2 million in grants to provide DSL service in its territory.

In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus package, Congress appropriated $7.2 billion for broadband grants, loans, and loan guarantees to be administered by the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). There are two programs: RUS Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and the NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). BIP will make loans and grants for broadband infrastructure projects in rural areas, while BTOP will provide grants to fund broadband infrastructure, public computer centers and sustainable broadband adoption project.

The first phase was slated to award $4 billion, a little more than half of the total $7.2 billion. In the first round alone, $28 billion in requests was made. Awards started being announced in December and were completed recently. In the first round, just two Idaho applications were funded.

Full disclosure: Sharon Fisher is a candidate for the Idaho Legislature, District 21.

About Sharon Fisher