Southeast Experts on Broadband Gather for Benedict College Conference

Broadband Stimulus, Expert Opinion, NTIA April 21st, 2009

, Expert Opinion,

COLUMBIA, S.C., April 21, 2009 – Representatives with broadband interests from southeastern states met at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina on April 15, 2009, to discuss the status of broadband in their states and common approaches they might take to advance their interests.

Most of the participants stayed on for the “Towns and Cities” conference at Benedict the next day, on Thursday, April 16.

The primary topics of discussion related to the grants from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service. Because of the value of responding to multiple objectives, the conversation expanded to include the potential stimulus funds for education and health care, and opportunities for meeting the needs of at-risk populations and promoting broadband adoption.

There was also discussion of the best ways to gather and display data to provide evidence in support of stimulus proposals that might be generated in their states.  There was a discussion of the value of overlaying demographic information on top of data related to the location and nature of broadband access at a granular level.

Consultant Chuck Sherwood summarized the efforts at regional idea-sharing in the New England states that has been going on for several months.  In many respects, it represents a model of what might be developed in the southeastern states.

Professor Richard Schmalbeck of the Duke Law School made a presentation on how a “limited liability low-profit” variant of a traditional limited liability company could be used as a structure to accept foundation program related investments as a low interest rate base foundation upon which stimulus grants, loans and loan guarantees could be layered.

The L3C deal structure is designed to support social investments, like broadband networks, that might fall short of marketplace underwriting.  This structure is currently under consideration in the foundation community.

Drew Clark, Executive Director of Broadband Census, summarized his approach to data collection and display to be used for either: (1) a quick overview of the location and nature of existing capacity at a statewide level; (2) a very detailed analysis to serve market research and feasibility studies for proposed stimulus projects; or (3) statewide education and outreach efforts.

The meeting concluded with an agreement to meet a second time in early May, with listserv discussions between the first and second meetings, and further outreach to other broadband interests in southeastern states. The conversations extended into dinner on Wednesday night and into the Benedict meeting on Thursday. It was a good start on effective collaboration. There appears the desire to keep going.

Editor’s Note

More information about the Benedict Collect conference in Columbia, S.C., is available in the Weekly Report from April 20, 2009. Click here for more information about subscribing to the Weekly Report.

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