Preliminary Analysis: First Batch of Stimulus Round 2 Awards

RUS, NTIA and the White House yesterday held a preliminary conference call to talk about today’s official announcement of the first batch of NOFA 2 (broadband stimulus) award winners.

No doubt the winners are popping champagne corks and started their 4th of July weekend fireworks early. The rest of the applicants and some of the rest of you probably want to get some sort of word on winners so crystal ball gazers can try to predict how the rest of this funding round will go.

I’ll try to help you out a little. Just last week I wrote an analysis of grants RUS awarded for NOFA 1 in case you want to get a little perspective before reviewing our first hint at what NOFA 2 might offer.

The conference call was a little light on detail, so tune in to catch the word from President Obama to get a broader picture of the program’s progress. But here are some highlights.

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Take It to the Bridge!

Morning folks,

Today’s hitting 10.5 in the Insanity Scale as NOFA 2 ambles toward the extended finish lines in one part of D.C. while the FCC preps for the rollout of the national broadband plan in another part of town. It’s so bad, I woke up three columns and two blog posts behind.

One (of many) good thing you can say about the Obama administration is that 14 months ago, broadband was a term maybe .5% of the population even heard used, let alone knew what the heck broadband is. After this week, as we take it to the bridge between NOFA 2 and national plan, even James Brown’s gonna come back and yell “Broadband? Jump back! Make me wanna kiss myself. Hit me!”

So how crazy is it around here? I’m so overwhelmed I’m going to turn over my space to Broadband Lawyer. As I mentioned in my last post, Broadband Lawyer is one of those do-gooders behind the mask who we don’t know, but know we love to have around. B L has some insights on the D.C. dance that’ll probably add to your gray hairs if you care about broadband stimulus or the national plan.

Hit me, B!

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Final Tips on Surviving Broadband Stimulus March to Madness

[This is really long. Print it out for the train ride home]

There are two large incumbents in the Cape Cod, MA area. OpenCape is the nonprofit-driven public/private partnership that just won a bunch of BTOP stimulus grant money to build a massive middle mile network. And here is a total random event that typifies one reason why they won despite the incumbents’ presence.

A few days ago in the outer Cape, a tree fell on an electrical cable that in turn started a fire involving a piece of telecom infrastructure. The fire took out all communications in five towns. Everything. There was no phone, Internet, 911, cable. Zip.

The Cape area is, for practical purposes, an island. A couple of bridges link it with the “mainland” across the canal on the Cape’s northwest side. One bridge carries the single communications pipe that both incumbents use to bring service to the area. In OpenCape’s vision, one day there ideally will be two big pipes plus the current one.

The primary reasons I’m bullish on OpenCape is their patience in planning, and their savvy in understanding that you plan first for the business success of the network, and then you worry about winning the grant application. Doing the reverse severely reduces your chances to succeed at either.

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Going for Google Broadband Gold (one NC community’s approach)

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Google recently turned the broadband world on its ear by announcing it’s going to set up fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks for a handful of lucky communities that will deliver 1 gigabit per second speeds. Dozens of cities large and small are lining up to apply.

I wanted to get a perspective on what’s motivating communities that survived NOFA 1 to endure a different frenzied race for broadband gold. Hunter Goosmann, General Manager of ERC Broadband in Western North Carolina, recently received their Opportunity to Re-Apply letter from NTIA and RUS. ERC’s not only going for Google gold, but also a chance at Round 2 funding (sleep must not be a valued commodity in that part of the world).

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NOFA 2 Lessons from a Round 1 Winner

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As everyone scrambles to make one last charge into broadband stimulus history – for better or worse – here’s a hopefully helpful post to give you at least a tiny edge in your pursuit of the gold.

I decided to profile stimulus grant winner Tad Deriso, President & CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative in Virginia, in part, because his group is the self-proclaimed “square peg in a round hole.” MBC is a co-op of private-sector-only companies, they didn’t form a public-private partnership, they’re a middle mile project not targeted to all the usual suspects and they challenged NTIA/RUS’ definition of underserved. Yet they still come out ahead.

Let’s see what we can learn from this slightly odd duck in the winner’s circle. Many of Tad’s comments pertain to the due diligence process, but understanding how they navigated this process offers some insights on where to tighten up your proposal.

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NOFA 2 – It Does Matter How You Say It

I listened to the NTIA/RUS workshop in Denver as these folks spelled out what makes for a good grant application, interpreted rules, etc. My ears perked up when they started on why projects got rejected. Specifically, when they explained that, for apps to get graded well in the Purpose (of the proposed network) category, “you have to be compelling, credible and clear.”

There have been some bitter and justifiable commentary about the first funding round, it’s lack of transparency in key areas and the lack of feedback throughout the process. I’ll add my 2 cents on this, but since the agencies gave some specific feedback, albeit in a general audience rather than to specific applicants, I want to jump on the key lessons.  

Months ago I wrote a column on how vital it is for you to write a really outstanding mission statement and executive summary. I believe readers thought I was loony giving them writing tips while they were trying to sort out engineering issues, 122-pages of hell and other seemingly more important issues.

Listen up folks! This is important. Today’s workshop spent significant time relating how reviewers rejected apps right off the bat – before due diligence – because of what was said, not said or how it was said. I point you later to a document with advice you probably want to heed. But first, a summary from the people who hold you future in their hands about what can kill your good, even great, idea for a network.

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Eliminate Weeks from Your NOFA 2 Prep Time!

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ID Insight’s BroadBand ScoutSM pulls details from millions of online retail transactions nationwide to enable you to determine broadband penetration down to the census block on connection type (broadband, dsl, cable, dial-up, etc.), data speeds and carriers. Give us the names of counties in your proposed service area, and we deliver the data for you to create or verify broadband coverage maps.

RidgeviewTel adds your BroadBand Scout data to their dBOSS Broadband Network Management Platform to:

  • aggregate the majority of necessary data NOFA 2 requires; 
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  • apply the data through imaging and layering of the various data to create maps of broadband usage, unserved areas, RF propagation and the number of potential customers per mile for fiber networks; and
  • return the NOFA-required data to you in the formats needed to upload these files directly to NTIA’s and RUS’ NOFA application servers

Successful.com facilitates the logistics between you and both companies, provides valuable analysis services if needed and ensures that everything is in order when you submit your application. You can purchase our services together or a la carte.

E-mail or call us today (510-536-4522) for more details. March 15 isn’t that far away.

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Money, Mo’ Money

Morning folks.

NTIA just announced another batch of lucky broadband stimulus winners. Check it out!

I’ll have analysis at midnight. My new book should be available for order this Friday. My publisher and I are frantically trying to get this into your hands to help with your broadband planning and grant application.

Stay tuned.

Handicapping NOFA 2

The good news is that the new NOFA rules are out. The bad news, if you have Attention Deficit Disorder, is that there are two of them and each one seems as long as the first NOFA rules. But at least there are welcome changes. Here’s an overview and a look at who does well as a result of these. 

First, I think it’s wise to let each group have its own rules. Many of the frustration people have had with the NOFA, Round 1 stem from the rules being a quick blending of procedures from agencies with two different purposes and ways of doing business. That led to the rules contradicting each other in places, or otherwise breeding confusion.

In terms of focus, NTIA is addressing middle mile primarily and this makes sense because it gives NTIA a bigger bang for their buck, allowing them to bring broadband to large geographical areas through each award. Rather than spend time reviewing 30 proposals for $1 million each, better to review one proposal for $30 million. There’s less administrative hassle on the backend where NTIA has to manage each funded project to completion.

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Taking Action on the New NOFA Rules

Welcome to NOFA 2 and the 60-day march through hell (for some) to $4 billion. After Friday afternoon’s sudden delivery of the preliminary set of NOFA rules, I made the comment that it is good that the agencies are going their separate ways. Trying to keep the NTIA/RUS marriage together for the sake of the kids didn’t make sense

Then I looked at draft of the NOFA for NTIA and RUS. That’s nearly 200 pages! My brain glazed over. No wonder they waited until Friday before a 3-day weekend! Then at midnight, I got an e-mail from the New America Foundation with incredibly thorough summaries of NOFA 2 highlighting changes from NOFA 1 and other valuable details condensed into 85% fewer pages. Read the summaries before the actual NOFAs.

Heartfelt thanks to New America are very much in order from all of us trying to slog through all this info. Dudes and dudettes – thank you!!

For my part, since New America breaks down what NOFA 2 is all about, I’m giving you some tips on what to do about these rules so you can get a good proposal across the finish line. There’s barely two months to the March 15 deadline for your proposal, so I’m not prettying this post up. This train’s leaving the station. You can complain to the Fed’s conductors later about whatever injustices you spot.  

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