Obama administration blocks Reid's plea for broadband stimulus extension

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the arm of the Commerce Department overseeing stimulus funding for broadband projects, said late Thursday that its March 15 deadline for second-round applications stands firm.

By law, the administration must award all of the money by Sept. 30 and cannot risk more delays, NTIA said.

It's now accepting applications for the final chance to receive a piece of $4.7 billion in stimulus money intended to expand high-speed Internet service in unserved areas. In all, $7 billion was allotted for broadband projects.

NTIA has yet to finish granting all of the stimulus awards from the first round of funding, sparking worries among applicants that they will not have enough time to re-submit a new application by the deadline.

Earlier this week, Reid joined public interest groups and other lawmakers in asking NTIA to extend its deadline.

In a letter, Reid said he was "concerned that the application deadline for the second and final round of rural broadband funding ... does not provide applicants sufficient time to improve their applications for resubmission."

"Many applicants have only recently received feedback on their first-round application, and many more are still awaiting notification," he said. "The result is a narrow window for reapplication that can be difficult to accommodate."

An extension of the deadline, Reid said, "will help ensure all second-round applicants have a reasonable time to prepare the best application for a competitive program."

Potential applicants have also expressed frustration with the short time frame.

Craig Settles, who has consulted on broadband-related projects, wrote in an op-ed in The Hill that, without an extension, "Round 2 will become a tangled mess.

"If Congress's goal is to facilitate the quick delivery of broadband to stimulate economic recovery and lay a foundation for economic advancement, prepare to be disappointed," Settles wrote.

It isn't the first time the Commerce Department has come under fire for its management of the stimulus program. Last month, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) called the program a "poster-child" for mismanagement, accusing NTIA of not dispatching the money quickly enough.

Under the program's rules, applicants' proposals will be rejected if they propose to build broadband in areas that have already received funding. NTIA this week published information to help guide Round 2 applicants as they resubmit their applications.

"The information being made available provides adequate information for Round 2 applicants about possible overlaps with Round 1 grants," NTIA said. "Accordingly, NTIA denies the pending extension requests."