Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How Many New Broadband Access Lines Will be Added by Broadband Stimulus?

For most applicants, Feb. 16, 2010 to March 15, 2010 is the window for filing "broadband stimulus" requests to the Rural Utilities Service and National Telecommunications & Information Administration programs. 

Satellite providers largely will be waiting for a new "third round" aimed at funding satellite projects, funded by the RUS.  A funding window will open "later" to provide grants for satellite service for premises that remain unserved after all other Recovery Act broadband funding is awarded, NTIA says. 

It isn't clear how much funding that might entail. The RUS will be disbursing about $2.2 billion in this funding round, while the NTIA will be awarding about $2.6 billion, of which approximately $2.35 billion will be made available for infrastructure projects, $150 million for public computer center projects, and $100 million for sustainable adoption projects. 

Most of the NTIA money is expected to support middle-mile projects, rather than access. Perhaps oddly enough, that decision by NTIA means there will not be a significant increase in new broadband access facilities,. since the middle mile projects, by definition, are "backbone" projects deemed necessary to get broadband backhaul facilities into place, not serve end users. 

The RUS, on the other hand, has said its $2.2 billion will be spent directly to expand access facilities. 

Assume each new broadband line costs just $3000, the figure suggested as an average for new rural broadband deployments. If all $2.2 billion is spent on access facilities, an additional 733,333 new broadband access lines would be added to the national total. Since there are additional costs, the total will be less than that. 

As the bulk of the total RUS funding ($2.3 billion out of a total of $2.5 billion) will be awarded in the second round, and using the same $3,000 per line assumption, of the $200 million awarded in the first round, 66,667 new lines could have been added, for a grand total of 800,000 lines. 

That is not to say the additional middle-mile facilities will not be foundational, and will result in potential new lines later. But there is no particular reason to believe an additional $3,000 per new access line will be required, when the time comes to actually install access facilities.

$7.2 billion for 800,000 lines might be an unfair way to characterize the program, as some of the money will be spent for public access facilities and training, and the middle-mile infrastructure is required for eventual deployment of new access facilities. 

But it is not far from the truth to point out this near-term conclusion: the immediate change in new broadband access lines from the whole broadband stimulus program will be on the order of 800,000. There will be some additional growth when wireless broadband networks funded under the program are able to finish deployment of their new networks, of course.

But the calculation of 800,000 new lines does not subject overhead and other administrative costs that will lessen the total number of added lines. In all likelihood, adding all fixed broadband lines will only bring the total back up to the 800,000 range. 

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