Expanding the reach of broadband

by Peter Fleck


Two critical pieces of the startup puzzle are healthcare and internet data connection/broadband. For the most part, both issues are currently in the hands of our government (and quasi private industry). I won’t talk healthcare except to say that no matter how entrepreneurial one is (or aspires to be) and no matter how creative one’s ideas, the necessity to provide adequate (family) healthcare coverage can easily keep even the most promising entrepreneur chained to the 9-5 “corporate” environment – thus stifling the ability to venture out, assume risk and ultimately innovate.

Are there any companies that don’t rely on broadband in one way or the other? Whether for internal or external communications, it’s a necessity in modern business to have a consistently reliable and relatively fast connection to the internet (read: not dialup). From web development shops to digital agencies, ecommerce, B2B/B2C products and services, data storage, etc., speed becomes even more relevant. A brick and mortar, mom and pop, independent contractor, etc., is increasingly likely to -at the least- hang a shingle on the web and to use email/ social communication tools.  In the end, we have all become dependent upon a reliable internet connection for commerce.

The good news is that the government is attempting to get more broadband reach in areas where it may have never been before. The National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) and Rural Utilities Service (RUS) have announced their second funding round with $4.8 billion available in  “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants and loans to expand broadband access and adoption in America.”  It’s great that this money is in play.  However, when I saw the news, I wondered about the first round of funding ($2.4 billion) because as far as I knew, only a small fraction had been awarded, including a $2.9 million grant to our own University of Minnesota.

Geoff Daily at AppRising is also wondering what’s up with the first-round funding.  Specifically, why the rush for second-round proposals? He notes that most of the government and private entities that applied already have not heard anything and wonders why they should now apply a second time with no feedback from their first proposal. It’s a good read and he makes some interesting points.

There are thirty-three Minnesota applicants with only one – The University of Minnesota – that knows where they stand. Many of these initiatives aim to extend broadband out to rural areas and small towns and a lot of them propose a fiber-to-the-home (or business) model.  Although it would have been nice to finish that process before calling for even more proposals,  building out the broadband infrastructure in will only serve foster the growth of existing companies and spawn the next generation of entrepreneurs, innovators, and .com’s.

Update: NTIA awards another $63 million in first-round money.