Businesses, nonprofits, libraries, hospitals and state and local governments have applied for more than $28 billion in funds for broadband projects from the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service.
The amount is seven times the amount available now through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. A preliminary analysis of applicant-reported data shows that NTIA and RUS received 2,200 requests for grants and loans totaling nearly $38 billion (including $10 billion in matching funds from applicants).
The Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which has $4 billion available through loans and grants, is focused on expanding broadband access to bridge the technological divide, create jobs, and build the Internet infrastructure, according to the agencies.
Bridging The Divide
While the act provides a total of $7.2 billion to the NTIA and RUS for broadband, only $4 billion is available through the first grant. The agencies have just two weeks to decide which of the 2,200 applicants will receive the funds.
Ultimately, NTIA said it will use $4.7 billion to deploy broadband in underserved areas, expand public computer center capacity, and encourage adoption of broadband services. RUS will invest $2.5 billion in broadband deployment for rural communities.
The number of requests shows high interest in expanding broadband across the U.S., said Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary for communications and information and administrator of NTIA. "We will move quickly but carefully to fund the best projects to bring broadband and jobs to more Americans," he said.
"Rural communities clearly recognize that broadband can expand their economic opportunities and create jobs," said Jonathan Adelstein, RUS administrator. "The Obama administration's goal is to target funds to serve areas of greatest need. The big demand for loans as well as grants demonstrates that we can leverage private investment with USDA's $2.5 billion to deliver the greatest bang for the taxpayers' buck."
A whopping 830 applications were received by both the NTIA and RUS for nearly $12.8 billion in infrastructure funding.
More than 400 applications were filed with RUS's Broadband Initiatives Program requesting $5 billion in grants and loans for broadband infrastructure in rural areas.
Nearly $2.5 billion was requested in more than 320 applications to the NTIA to increase sustainable demand for broadband services. Included in those projects are broadband awareness and education, training, equipment and support.
The NTIA received more than 360 applications seeking $1.9 billion in grants for public computer projects in libraries, community colleges, and other institutions.
Both agencies say the numbers made public Thursday are preliminary and a further review is expected to find errors and duplications. Once completed, the agencies plan to post an online database of all applications received.