TECHNOLOGY AND AMOUNT OF FUNDING
Yesterday, SmarterBroadband, a local Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) was awarded $2.5M in funding from the Department of Agriculture to extend their Motorola Canopy technology infrastructure here in Nevada County, designated as a “rural” area. 75% of that funding is a grant, directly to the business, and 25% is a loan.
The Nevada County Connected technology is a telecommunications-grade open-network developed by CONXX consisting of 10 towers and 5 spurs that enables multiple WISPs and public entities the capability to secure higher bandwidth at cost-effective pricing. The $11.1M project is seeking $7.7M in Federal grant funding (69%) to match $3.4M in other funding (31%) that is split between a $1.1M California Public Utilities Commission grant, in-kind services, private loans, and private investment. The Nevada County Economic Resource Council, as a non-profit, is the grant recipient, and will maintain an ongoing revenue stream from the Nevada County Connected project to support economic development locally.
THE FEDERAL GRANT APPLICATION PROCESS
The Round 2 of Federal stimulus funding for broadband offered the choice of submiting grant applications to either the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service – RUS – (under the Broadband Initiatives Program – BIP) or the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications & Information Administration – NTIA – (under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program – BTOP).
SmarterBroadband’s project is designated as “Last Mile” — meaning it provides service directly to residences/businesses, and was therefore best suited for BIP funding. Nevada County Connected’s project is a “Middle Mile” project whose primary purpose is to bring bandwidth to the most remote areas for use by WISPs, public/fire safety, and community anchor institutions such as libraries, schools and government facilities. It was best suited for BTOP funding under the Comprehensive Community Infrastructure category. The projects do not overlap each other, and both can be funded under the Federal guidelines.
Three local WISPs signed letters of commitment to utilize the Nevada County Connected network infrastructure for provision of broadband Internet services to residences and businesses. SmarterBroadband was not one of these. Eighty-one (81) – essentially all – of the local community anchor institutions (schools, libraries, public/fire safety facilities, and government facilities) have signed letters of commitment to utilize the Nevada County Connected network infrastructure for their services.
In Round 2, the two Departments’ grant review and approval processes were very different, as were their timetables for announcing funding awards. Nevada County Connected’s project recently completed a rigorous 6-week due diligence process with a 7-member team in Washington, DC. We are currently waiting to submit the final BTOP grant application documents to the NTIA for the next step — Evaluation/Decision. The BIP process did not include a due diligence segment, although applicants may have been contacted for purposes of clarification.
Sixty-one (61) BIP/BTOP project grant awards were announced in June. None of those projects were based in California. One hundred and twenty (120) BIP project grant awards were announced yesterday. Four of those projects were based in California. One being SmarterBroadband’s.
The Department of Agriculture / RUS will announce the next set of fifty (50) BIP grant recipients during the week of August 16. That same week the Department of Commerce / NTIA will announce seventy (70) additional BTOP grant recipients. The next set of announcements for both BIP and BTOP will take place during the week of September 6, with a final set being announced during the last week of September (but primarily focused on public safety and mapping applicants).
Given the Nevada County Connected timetable thus far, it is expected that we will be notified during the week of September 6.
It is hoped that the influx of grant awards in Nevada County will bring better pricing for broadband service. Below are local and regional cost comparisons for Internet access service as of July 2010. Prices do not reflect promotional pricing.