Federal Funding for Information Technology
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Have you ever had one of those insomniac experiences, staying up late at night, watching the worst television ever made, and on comes a guy in a bad suit promising you that there is tons of Federal money out there for the taking. If you order now, for just $9.95, Mr. Bad-Suit will send you his new book on how you too can get at all of that free federal funds, or boats, or houses, or whatever?
Well even guys in bad suits, late at night, can occasionally be right. The US Government does have a tremendous amount of funds that it gives away. The US Government will identify public policy goals and allocate grants to researchers, businesses, or other groups who are capable of responding to select needs. These funds present a tremendous opportunity for Internet companies to expand their business plans.
If you think about it, the Internet itself is a product of these funds. The history of the Internet is a history of the US Government saying, “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we had this new form of packet switched communications that is distributed and resilient against outages.” It was designed and built with funding from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation.
There are a number of federal programs that Internet companies can take advantage of. These include money to fight the digital divide, to find new means of making technology secure and reliable, or to get computers into every class room in the United States. Internet companies can incorporate these federal programs into their business plans.
In some cases companies may be directly eligible for the programs. In other cases, companies can be the local expert telling the community how to get involved; and oh, by the way, if the community ends up ordering a whole bunch of Internet services, the company can be right there ready to meet their needs. This is one of those win-win situations.
It’s money. It’s may be free. But it aint easy. Competitive grants can be highly competitive. There are frequently ten-fold more applications than there is money to give out. But the application process can also be a bit self selective. Some applications are not responsive to the needs of the federal program. Other applicants write one blanket application and send it to multiple programs, missing the mark for most if not all of them. Others fail to do their homework, such as setting up appropriate partnerships or contacts to determine what actual community needs might be. In the end, the number of truly qualified applications can be quite limited and that is where the true competition for grants takes place.
In some instances it is not uncommon that first time applicants do not receive grants. But it is also not uncommon that first time applicants learn from the experience and come back the next year with more refined proposals and receive grants. The lesson is do your homework and be patient. While the money is out there, it will take some work and some time getting at it.
One way to improve an application is to tap into the communities that are established around these programs. The FCC’s E-rate has the attention of the education community. Technical research grants have the attention of the research and higher education community. Digital divide money might have the attention of such groups as the Association for Community Networking or the Metropolitan Austin Interactive Network. By working with those groups, one can learn what they have learned, use that to improve an applications, and, quite possibly, create a plan that is more responsive to the needs of the community. It is also possible to work with Internet trade association to learn what programs other companies have had success with and which programs should be avoided.
The amount of funding available in these programs is uncertain year to year. The new administration has not shown the same level of support for these programs as the Clinton-Gore administration. President Bush came into office making rumblings about changing the FCC's E-rate program, perhaps converting to a block grant program of the Department of Education. Other rumors came true when the Department of Commerce's Technology Opportunities Program was cut from $42 million to $15 million and then eliminated.
There are a number of resources available that can be consulted concerning how to develop and write grant proposals. Some of the oft repeated pointers can be summed up as follows:
- Do your research. Look into who is eligible to receive funding, how much funding is available, what the deadlines are, and the process for application review. Find the program website and look for a guidebook or last year's announcements.
- Look for and attend the program workshop. Many programs have workshops held around the country educating possible grantees concerning the program (it is in the interest of the program to go out and encourage the best applications possible to meet the program goals). This is also an excellent opportunity to establish a direct relationship with the program.
- Review past successful grant applications. Many programs will make this information available online. One excellent example to look at, even though the program may no longer be in existence, is the Technology Opportunity Program grants.
- Discover whether an association has formed around the funding program and consider joining it. The Department of Education's Community Technology Center (CTC) program led to the creation of the private association CTCNet which provided assistance to program applicants and continues to hold an annual meeting.
- Coordinate with your community and consider including community letters demonstrating support for and involvement in the program.
- Submit a well prepared application. The application generally should include
- A summary;
- A description of the applying entity (and any partners);
- A description of the problem or need;
- A description of the solution and its objections;
- A description of the methods;
- An explanation of how the project will be evaluated;
- An explanation of how funding will be maintained in the future; and
- A proposed budget.
- Have patience and persistence.
For more information, See
- Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance, Developing and Writing Grant Proposals
- Congressional Research Service, Broadband Internet Access and the Digital Divide: Federal Assistance Programs (June 27, 2002)
Accepting funding from government programs frequently means accepting restrictions and conditions placed on that funding by the federal government. It is important to be aware of these restrictions in order to be able to comply with such obligations and also to ensure that such restrictions are not inconsistent with your mission vision. See for example CIPA and the Sec. 504.
- The Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) Grant Program assists state, local and federal first responders better communicate during a natural or man-made disaster. NTIA, in consultation with DHS, shall make payments not to exceed $1 billion in the aggregate through fiscal year 2010 to carry out the PSIC program. Grants will be awarded by September 30, 2007, and grant projects will be completed in Fiscal Year 2010.
Funding and Initiatives
National Service Bridging the Digital Divide [Link Dead]
"AmeriCorps members are helping to bridge the digital divide and ensure the promise of technology for more Americans. Working in schools, community centers, and YMCAs, AmeriCorps members are providing the hands-on instruction, expertise, and guidance needed to help children and adults succeed and thrive in the digital age.
With support from leading technology companies and non profits, hundreds of AmeriCorps members are working in technology initiatives this year. In communities across the country, AmeriCorps members are wiring schools to the Internet, training teachers on how to use technology in the classroom, and providing one-on-one instruction to children and adult learners."
SBC Foundation allocates $9 million for technology grant program, Bizjournals 3/18/2005 FY 2005 Federal Community Technology Appropriations, ComTechRev 2/1/2005 Academics get NSF grant for Net security centers, CNET 9/24/2004 Digital Divide Network Funding, ddnet 5/13/03 Commerce Secretary Launches Public-Private Partnership To Spur Technological Growth In Developing Nations, DOC 3/5/03 Senate Approves $1B For Research - InternetNews DC 10/18/02