Broadband stimulus projects won’t be blocked easily by incumbents

Incumbent service providers will have a hard time trying to block broadband stimulus projects in their territories. That’s according to Craig Settles, a consultant and founder of Successful.com, who also helps stimulus applicants apply for funding.

The rules of NTIA’s broadband stimulus program allow incumbent service providers 30 days to challenge any proposed project in their territory on the grounds that broadband is already available there. Though the rules originally required incumbent challengers making that charge to report the maximized upstream and download speeds they advertise at the address level — prorietary corporate information they would be loathe to reveal — the NTIA loosened that requirement to apply more broadly to service areas and local franchise areas rather than addresses. Yesterday, however, the NTIA said incumbents would need to work harder to make their case.

“Yesterday, NTIA’s [Administrator Lawrence] Strickling said that any incumbent that challenges a [stimulus] application by claiming the incumbent already covers the applicant’s proposed service area must provide ‘overwhelming’ evidence to support this challenge,” Settles said. “I believe that pretty much puts a damper on things, since incumbents resist giving out the kind of info they’d need to meet these terms, plus the time’s probably too short. Having campaigned against this for months, I’m pretty pleased.”

Though the precise definition of “overwhelming” remains to be seen, Settles said the NTIA is sending repeated signals that it will be resistant to incument interests, including the organization’s stance on net neutrality and open access requirements for stimulus recipients. A key question, he said, would be whether applicants will be able to rebut incumbent challenges. If so, applicants could theoretically counter any vague or generalized data coming from incumbents with their own more detailed data (from surveys, for example), thus winning the argument.

Settles, who warned in August that incumbent challenges could derail a lot of stimulus projects, said, “I’m feeling a lot better than I did a month ago.”

UPDATE 9/18/09: More on this topic here.

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