WASHINGTON, March 13, 2009 – After filling multiple overflow rooms at Tuesday’s broadband stimulus kickoff event, the Rural Utilities Services and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Friday they would hold six additional public meetings on the broadband stimulus.
Included in the announcement were firm dates, times and locations for the six meetings: two in Washington, plus the satellite meetings in Las Vegas, Nev., and Flagstaff, Ariz.
The next series of meetings begins with an encore performance in Washington, D.C. on Monday, March 16, at the Commerce Department auditorium.
The “tour” then heads west to Las Vegas, Nev., for a meeting Tuesday, March 17 at the Charleston Heights Center, 800 South Brush Street. The Wednesday, March 18 meeting will be in Flagstaff, Az., at the Northern Arizona University’s High Country Conference Center, located at 201 West Butler Avenue.
The hometown crowd in Washington will have three more chances to catch the show and make comments, with meetings planned for Thursday, March 19, and then on Monday, March 23, and Tuesday, March 24. The D.C. meetings on the 16th, 19th and 23rd will feature a speaker from a state-level utility commission.
Tentative agenda items for each meeting were also announced. The March 16 meeting, “headlined” by District of Columbia Public Services Chairman Betty Ann Kane, will begin at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time with a one-hour roundtable and 30 minute public comment period on private sector eligibility for the NTIA and RUS grant programs.
Following a lunch break, there will be an identically structured roundtable and comment period on coordination with the USDA Grant and Loan program, followed by a session focused on the demand side of the program – “innovative programs to encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service and expanding public computer center capacity.”
The third topic is the focus of a combined $450 million in grant funding, with $200 million set aside for expanding public computer centers, such as schools and libraries, and another $250 million available for “innovative programs.”
The St. Patrick’s day gathering in Las Vegas and the Flagstaff encore on March 18 will follow the same roundtable and public comment format as the Monday meeting, but with different topics: (1) “reaching vulnerable populations, driving demand, and the role of strategic institutions,” (2) “definitions of ‘broadband,’ ‘underserved’ and ‘unserved,'” and (3) “selection criteria and weighing priorities.”
Both meetings will begin at 4:00 p.m. Pacific and Mountain times, respectively.
The last three Washington, DC meetings will return to the 10:00 a.m. start time and retain the one-hour roundtable, 30 minute comment time frames, but will each have distinct topic sets and featured speakers.
The March 19 meeting will feature two sessions focused on shaping definitions of “broadband” and “underserved areas,” respectively. The statutory language of the stimulus lets NTIA define those terms in consultation with the Federal Communications Commission.
The second session also will include discussion of how to best reach “vulnerable populations.” And the day will close with a roundtable and comment period on rural and unserved areas — priority targets for the $4.7 billion in grants to be awarded by NTIA under its Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. The featured speaker will be New York State Public Service Commissioner Maureen Harrison.
Network neutrality issues could take the stage during first session of the the March 23 meeting. The day will open with a roundtable on “nondiscrimination and interconnection obligations.” While the language of the stimulus law requires “open access” on networks built with stimulus funds, the definition of open access is left to NTIA to define using the “five points” of the Federal Communications Commission’s Internet Policy Statement as a minimum standard.
The featured guest on March 19 will be National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners president Fred Butler. Butler, who sits on the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, is likely to figure prominently during the meeting’s second and third sessions, which focus on the role of the states in (1) implementing the broadband stimulus, and (2) developing a comprehensive national broadband map.
The stimulus package appropriated $350 million for “state-centered” broadband mapping pursuant to the Broadband Data Improvement Act, passed during the 110th Congress. The NARUC board of directors passed a resolution encouraging states to explore methods of broadband data collection and mapping, including public-private partnerships, during its winter 2009 meeting last month.
The final meeting on March 24 will likely appeal to the financially minded, with sessions on post-award compliance and oversight, selection criteria and weighing priorities, and community economic development.
Accountability and oversight of the grant programs could be a hot topic, as many members of House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, including subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., expressed a desire to see strict oversight of the grant programs during a March 12 hearing on Universal Service Fund reform. Boucher suggested oversight of the grant programs might be a subject for a hearing in the near future.
Contrary to the unofficial motto of “sin city,” what happens in Vegas (or Washington, or Flagstaff) will not stay there. NTIA announced it will webcast each meeting live on its website: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/broadbandgrants. And all materials and information will be archived on the RUS site as well, at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov.