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Broadband Stimulus Package Should Include Funding for State Data, Says Massachusetts

in Broadband Stimulus/States by

WASHINGTON, January 2, 2009 – Congress and the incoming administration of President Obama should include broadband-related investment in the pending legislation designed to promote economic stimulus, and the federal government needs to begin with better data about broadband availability, said a top Massachusetts government official.

In particular, Congress should fully fund the Broadband Data Improvement Act, S. 1492, which passed last October without any appropriated or authorized funding levels. Prior to passage, an earlier version of the bill had included language authorizing $40 million for the Commerce Department to allocate to state-led broadband mapping efforts.

“Full funding of the Broadband Data Improvement Act through the economic recovery package would be a wise investment that would quickly jump-start efforts to stimulate broadband availability,” wrote Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Daniel O’Connell, in a letter last week to the chairs of the Obama-Biden Transition Project.

O’Connell also urged flexibility in the way that states structure their individual broadband programs, extending stimulus funds to spur broadband demand among the poor, and recognizing that some forms of communication, like satellite service, are inferior methods of delivering broadband.

Massachusetts is one of the leading states in the drive to promote universal broadband deployment and availability. In August 2008, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, signed legislation authorizing up to $40 million in state funds to ensure that broadband is available to all the state’s citizens.

In addition to his capacity as state secretary of economic development and housing, O’Connell is the chair of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), a non-profit entity that will administer the state’s up to $40 million investment in broadband infrastructure. Last week, MBI posted the submissions it had received in its first request for proposals about the ways to expand broadband availability in western Massachusetts.

O’Connell’s letter, which included a five-page memo on the role of broadband investment in the economic recovery, laid out the approaches that various states are taking with regard to broadband infrastructure.

One set of states – including Massachusetts and Vermont – are investing their own funds in publicly-owned infrastructure, he said.

A second group of states, including California and Maine, have adapted their instate Universal Service Funds to support broadband deployment, generally through a surcharge of telephone service. Those funds are made available to companies, non-profits and public bringing broadband to unserved areas, said O’Connell.

Although Massachusetts chose “a public-private partnership approach in authorizing the use of state bond funds for investment in selected long-lived components of broadband infrastructure, such as conduit, fiber and wireless towers,” O’Connell said that the federal government should “build as much flexibility as possible into federal funding approaches.”

On the issue of broadband demand, O’Connell urged that stimulus funds go toward targeting services at “key demographic segments, such as older or less educated Americans.”

With regard to a Kentucky-based non-profit organization focused on broadband, he said that “Connected Nation has received quite a bit of attention for its user education activities intended to stimulate and aggregate broadband demand.” He also noted that “while the Connected Nation model is sometimes portrayed as a universal broadband strategy, the model does not actually involve any public investment in infrastructure deployment.”

Finally, O’Connell criticized the fact that broadband grant and loan program of the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utility Service “does not include any indication of broadband quality as part of their evaluation criteria. This policy is inconsistent with the Obama-Biden’s administration’s goal of restoring U.S. leadership in broadband.”

Separately, this week New York Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, also wrote to President-elect Obama, urging him to include broadband in the stimulus package. In a December 29 letter, he wrote:

“In New York, we have 17 broadband projects, totaling $88.6 million, which will help New York reach its long-term goal of ensuring every New Yorker has access to affordable high-speed broadband. Of these projects, nine, totaling $8.5 million, can be completed in 180 days. These include projects to light up dark fiber across the State and county-level private/public partnership projects.”

Editor’s Note:

BroadbandCensus.com has been surveying the state of broadband, and of broadband data, within each of the United States and its territories. The articles about the 17 states profiled so far can be found at http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=713

Broadband Breakfast Club

January Meeting: What Will Broadband Do to the Universal Service Fund?

BroadbandCensus.com presents the January meeting of the Broadband Breakfast Club at Old Ebbitt Grill on Tuesday, January 13, 2009, at 8 a.m.

  • Jay Driscoll, Director, Government Affairs, CTIA – The Wireless Association
  • Gregory Rohde, Executive Director, E-Copernicus/E9-1-1 Institute
  • Jennifer Schneider, Legislative Counsel, Office of Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., Incoming Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee
  • Curt Stamp, President, Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club. He tracks the development of Gigabit Networks, broadband usage, the universal service fund and wireless policy @BroadbandCensus. He is also Of Counsel with the firm of Best Best & Krieger LLP, with offices in California and Washington, DC. He works with cities, special districts and private companies on planning, financing and coordinating efforts of the many partners necessary to construct broadband infrastructure and deploy “Smart City” applications. You can find him on LinkedIN and Twitter. The articles and posts on BroadbandBreakfast.com and affiliated social media are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

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