Department of Agriculture officials revealed in a webinar October 13 that they will offer a way to extend the completion deadline for Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) funded projects. The deadline to complete the broadband stimulus projects would become June 30, 2015, with the deadline to expend BIP funds moving to September 30, 2015. However, awardees must agree to a set of proposals designed to streamline the completion process before the extension will be granted.
The Rural Utilities Service (RUS), the Agriculture Department agency that administers the BIP program, sent copies of the proposed contract modifications by courier to award recipients October 4. If the proposals are accepted, the new contract language will change the original deadline -- substantially complete within two years and fully complete within three years of the execution of loan and grant agreements -- to a mandate that BIP projects must begin within 180 days of the latter of the completion of the project’s historic preservation or environmental review and be fully complete no later than three months prior to the September 30, 2015 funding expiration date.
The extension is not available to recipients of funds from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which is administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce.
The presenters, which Telecompaper reports were Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan and RUS Administrator Jonathan Adelstein, noted that BIP projects in general were not as far along as originally anticipated. A slide presented during the webinar (the deck is available from the RUS website) listed several reasons that recipients had given for the delays:
- Environmental reviews
- Awaiting contract approvals from RUS
- Legal/loan document delay
- Fiber/materials shortage (for more on this, see “Fiber shortage likely to continue for at least another quarter”)
- Financing delays
- Waiting to submit funding paperwork to delay the start of the original three-year clock
- Regulatory delays
The new contract language was developed at the behest of the Office of Management and Budget, which directed the administrators of all Recovery Act funding programs to work with their recipients on ways to accelerate their projects.
Despite the sense that BIP and BTOP programs in general are behind schedule, at least some BIP projects have reached completion. The presentation cited Copper Valley Wireless (Alaska), Supervision, Inc. (Alaska), Big Island Broadband/Aloha Broadband (Hawaii), Halstad Telephone Co. (two projects, Minnesota/North Dakota), and Gervais Telephone Co. (Oregon) as awardees who have finished their broadband rollout projects.