Though the application deadline for the first round of broadband stimulus funds is the end of next week, some of the first winners are already being named.
ICF International, a professional services firm, has already been awarded up to $27 million to help implement stimulus fund distribution. Others are being hired to map existing broadband coverage: ESRI, which makes geographic information system software, has been hired by the Texas Department of Agriculture, along with controversial nonprofit Connected Nation, to help map that state’s broadband availability.
While the pace of the overall broadband stimulus process has overwhelmed many would-be applicants (to the point where many of them are skipping the first round and focusing on the second), the broadband mapping component of the plan has been regarded as especially confusing. To better understand the nation’s broadband needs, the federal government has allocated some $350 million to create a national broadband availability map that won’t be completed until early 2011, long after stimulus funds have been awarded.
“It strikes many of us that we put the cart before the horse,” said Joel McCamley, senior vice president and division manager of telecommunications and technology services for L. Robert Kimball Associates, which is helping broadband stimulus candidates apply for funding.
While it’s true that this rushed pace is likely to result in some sloppiness in the way that broadband is funded and deployed (and could even give rise to fraud, as Yankee Group analyst and Telephony alum Vince Vittore recently told BusinessWeek), the immediate goal of the stimulus program is more about feeding employment than it is about achieving universal broadband. Critics of the stimulus plan sometimes confuse the plan’s long-term stimulus ambitions — which come from more widespread use of broadband — with its short-term job-creation imperatives. For now, whether the cart goes before the horse or vice versa is less important than whether or not they are both put to work.