I know, this is probably a really bad time to talk about the work that comes next in the broadband dash for dollars. But there are a bunch of folks sitting on the sidelines waiting for the Round 2 funding cycle, watching people’s submission trials this week with Round 1, and maybe contemplating just going to the beach instead.
Anyway, the fact remains, there’s still work to be done by everyone involved with this adventure in technology.
1. Everyone who applied, or at least initiated your application upload, be sure to re-read all the details on the next 2 steps of the NOFA journey. You can’t do much about the initial screening except wait to see if you make it. However, there are things you can do to get ready for the second step because the NOFA gives you an idea what to expect.
2. I cannot emphasize enough that you do whatever you can to gather data about who doesn’t have coverage in your proposed service area. Somewhere along the line, I believe you’re going to need it. Besides, it can’t hurt to have more rather than less data about who needs what.
3. If you don’t already, have a plan B in case you don’t get funding this round. If you plan to go for Round 2 should you not win this round, pay careful attention from item # 5 on. By the time you find out if you have the grant or not, it may be too late to do many of these activities.
4. Prepare to fight off any incumbent challenges to your proposal. Don’t forget there’s that pesky little NOFA rule that allows service providers who didn’t have the wherewithal to submit a solution of their own to challenge you after all the work you’ve done. I watched very carefully how Philly beat down Verizon’s challenge to that wireless network in 2004, and I created a media and citizen’s lobby campaign to give you a stronger hand in fighting off such a challenge. Get it here.
5. Those of you planning to pursue Round 2 funding, listen up. Go to this list (http://www.successful.com/news/articles.html), pull up and read my columns in Fierce Broadband, TMCnet, Daily Wireless and Public CIO. Many of these address steps you need to start taking months before the application due date. Some people ignored these steps until it was way too late for Round 1. Don’t miss the train this time.
6. A lot of you need to decide if you’re going to fight back against rules that pretty much put communities’ interest far behind those of incumbents. I mean, letter-writing, e-mailing, foot-stomping, political pressure applying, in-you-face-but-respectful insistence on changes in the rules! Too many people sat back and bitched quietly rather than give full-throated voice to their concerns.
Don’t for a minute think that this doesn’t matter. As much as we were told the rules were set, the rules can’t be changed, they shouldn’t be changed until maybe the next funding round, here comes the incumbents’ $1000-Armani Suit Brigade. They stomped, wrote letters, got in NTIA’s face. And what happened? Concessions to the unchangeable rules that make it harder for meaningful broadband projects to succeed.
As we get past this week of uploading hell with your NOFA applications, ponder what rules you would change if President Obama tapped you on the shoulder and asked you to be in charge of this process.
7. In the spirit of helpful nudging, here’s a list for which there seems to be a consensus of disdain, dismay and disillusionment. Pick one or two items to make it your mission to address in whatever way you think will produce a change. I’ll be adding my own fuel to the effort over the next few weeks.
- Either the incumbent challenge needs to go away, or NTIA/RUS provide applicants a valid ability to successfully defend their turf
- Change the definition of broadband from it’s ridiculously low level to one that is based on the identified needs of the communities to be served.
- Eliminate the “advertised speed” rule that defines an area as being un- or underserved based on who’s advertising what speed. Definitions have to rely on actual speeds received.
- Re-write the rules and reporting requirements that are heavily geared to telecom companies, adding requirements that take into account community-owned networks as well as networks built by public-private partnerships.
- No more anonymous volunteers reviewing grants. Personally, I think using volunteers wasn’t such a great deal given the short time to adequately prep these folks, but at least the bugs may be worked out by Round 2 so the program runs as smoothly as other volunteer peer review panels. But this secret panel crap is for the birds and no one should have sat quietly for that.
Feel free to add to the list. But let’s commit to spending part of September doing some amount of lobbying for better rules. NTIA has said it’s open to, and encourages, feedback on the rules and expressed a willingness to make changes. Are you going to take advantage of the moment?