Will NOFA Round 1 Ever End? Maybe Not

The level of frustration with NTIA/RUS’ refusal to extend the NOFA 2 application deadline has become severe. This is probably going to send some over the edge and away from the stimulus program. The result: the American taxpayer loses. If ever there was a right time for Congress to intervene, now is that time.

In the press release this week from RUS announcing their grant winners of the week, most of us (myself included) missed this item:

USDA is continuing to review broadband applications currently on file and expects to make additional announcements concerning awards throughout the current fiscal year. 

One of my contacts e-mailed to ask if this means we won’t know who all the winners are on Feb 28. NOFA 2 rules say your grant app will be disqualified if your proposed coverage area includes areas covered by  Round 1 winners. Which means you have two weeks to either scramble to adjust your application if there turns out to be duplications, or you face two weeks of sheer hell because you waited around for the Feb 28 finale.

However, what the RUS press release implies is that, like the movie Ground Hog Day, every day we wake up we’ll still be in Round 1. I sent the following message to someone I know at RUS:

Can you clarify this point from your media release yesterday? This seems to imply there is no clear cut-off date, or demarcation, between Round 1 awards and Round 2 awards. Are we (several people have asked me about this) misreading this statement? I’m getting ready to post an item on my blog. 

 I got the following reply:

There is a clear cut-off date that all awards will be made by September 30, 2010. And, there is an end-of-month cut-off for first round awards. However, a very small number of awards may be made after that date as they are still in review.

I see the confusion in the way the sentence is written.

Whoa. That’s pretty stunning news. So I sent a follow up message:

But if there is even a small number of applicants still being considered after Feb 28, how do new people apply without the danger of their application being rejected because one of those holdovers is proposing the same coverage area?

This goes to the heart of a lot of people’s total frustration. We don’t have enough time to move forward on an application with anything like enough knowledge of what’s already covered or funded to be covered.

 To this, I received the following:

Point well-taken and we, too, understand the problem and are working toward a resolution to post the necessary information. Our goal is to satisfy the need as quickly as possible. Will keep you posted on this and appreciate your patience.

Oh boy. Since it is unfair to shoot the messenger, I will only say that I appreciate the candor because, as I also indicated in my message, this person doesn’t make policy.

So where does this leave us. I conclude that it does no good to complain to NTIA/RUS because they are caught between the devil of Congressional mandate (which they don’t seem inclined to fight) and a rising deep blue sea of well and truly pissed off, discontented people (whom the agencies try to placate). Talk about being set up for failure!

If you care about broadband, if you want some semblance of fair play in exchange for suffering through NOFA 1, if you want any hope of avoiding the probable train wreck ahead, you need to get on the horn to Congress. 

Tell Congress to beware the Ides of March because it’s looking to be a b- of a nightmare. Tell them if they care about broadband beyond lip service and platitudes, this Round 2 application process needs a 30-day stay of execution. Don’t tell us we need to get the money out in a hurry because of the economy. Tell us some folks in Congress have the good sense to realize when it is you can’t get there from here, and are willing to take a little political heat to get $4 Billion worth of broadband done right!

I’m doing my best Paul Revere. The ball’s now in your court.

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