WASHINGTON, April 27, 2009 – Officials at the agency responsible for crafting the federal government’s broadband stimulus policies held 36 meetings meeting over the past two months – 17 with federal legislators, 11 with private companies and non-profit groups, and eight with state and city officials.
In the two months since the National Telecommunications and Information Administration opened its doors to these private meetings, the focus of the 36 meetings appears to have been three-fold: explaining and discussing the program with legislators; NTIA-solicited input from geographic companies; and obtaining advice from states with programs for broadband incentives.
The record of the meetings was released by the NTIA, an agency of the Commerce Department, on their web site over the past two weeks. It was updated late last week to include the meetings with federal legislators. http://www.ntia.doc.gov/broadbandgrants/exparte.html
The degree of detail about the content of the meetings varied widely. In some cases, elaborate Power Point presentations were included in the record. In other cases, only brief and cryptic summaries of the points made by the various parties were posted.
In general, the earlier meetings in March included much more detailed information. The descriptions of the meetings in April tended to be more general and lacking in specificity.
The first meeting by NTIA broadband officials was with the Republican staff to the Senate Commerce Committee, on February 24. It was closely followed by the staff for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the Republican staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
According to the brief summary, aides to all three members of legislative officers were interested in the general contours of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program at NTIA, as well as coordination between the NTIA and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service.
The first non-governmental entity to obtain a meeting with the NTIA staff, according to these ex parte summaries, was Connected Nation, on March 4.
According to the summary on the NTIA web site, NTIA officials “initiated” the meeting with Connected Nation CEO Brian Mefford, and Phillip Brown.
In the meeting, Connected Nation said that mapping “availability and adoption of broadband services” was crucial to meeting the goals of the BTOP program. Mefford and Brown also said that “non-disclosure agreements are important to legally protect confidential and proprietary information.”
Companies in the geographic analysis and spatial mapping field holding meetings with NTIA over the past two months include Apex CoVantage (on March 12 and April 8), CostQuest (on March 11), and Space Data Corp. (on March 20).
Like Connected Nation, CostQuest said that “Non-disclosure agreements would be needed to encourage provider participation” in a system of mapping broadband data a fine level of granularity.
Apex CoVantage, by contrast, highlighted the role of transparency in broadband mapping. According to the summary of its meeting, FCC broadband data “masks unserved areas and is too aggregated to provide the needed level of accuracy.”
Apex CoVantage used maps of Charlotte County, Va., to demonstrate that the finer the level of granularity, the more inadequate FCC data becomes.
Officials with the ConnectArkansas, which is affiliated to the non-profit organization Connected Nation, also met with the NTIA, on April 7, together with five officials from the Federal Communications Commission.
Those same five FCC officials also joined a meeting, one hour later, with Karen Jackson of the Center for Innovative Technology in Virginia. The description of both meetings was generic.
Among state agencies and representatives meeting with the NTIA staff, the first in line was the California Public Utilities Commission, which discussed their early effort at state-wide broadband mapping, on March 18.
Massachusetts Department of Telecom and Cable Commissioner Sharon Gillett met briefly with the NTIA’s Ed Smith on March 23, 2009, immediately prior to the beginning of a public workshop at the Commerce Department at 10 a.m. that day.
In the supplemental material posted on the NTIA website, Gillett released a detailed map with the names of the carriers, and their technology type, offering broadband services within each of the Massachusetts’ townships.
Other companies obtaining meetings with NTIA officials included Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco, both of whom argued against including requirements that only American products be included in projects funded by broad grants.
“Cisco [does] not believe that broadband grants under BTOP constitute a ‘public work’ which would subject them to the ‘Buy America’ requirement,” said Jeffrey Campbell, senior director of global policy for the router manufacturer.
Alcatel-Lucent agreed. “BTOP projects do not fit within ‘public work’ or should be exempt,” said the company’s Michael McMenamin. “In any event the vast majority of stimulus dollars for broadband projects will be devoted to the labor costs of deployment, not ICT equipment."
Other non-profit groups that had meetings with NTIA include the Pew Internet & American Life Project, and the Minority Media Telecommunications Council.
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