ARLINGTON, Va., June 19, 2009 – The Broadband Technology Opportunities Program is a “jump start” for President Obama’s broadband vision for communities to use information technology to expand and enrich their infrastructure to help revive a slowing economy, said Mark Seifert, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Seifert delivered the morning keynote on the second day of Pike and Fischer’s Broadband Policy Summit.
The broadband programs are the “newest chapter” in the President’s plans for “an interconnected democracy” that is internationally competitive, Seifert said. “Technology has kept America at the center of global innovation,” he said. The BTOP programs funded in the Recovery Act are intended to acellerate both infrastructure improvements and service adoption at the consumer level, he said. Seifert noted that $450 million in stimulus funds earmarked for programs to encourage adoption and foster access are floors — not ceilings. “Folks need to understand how broadband affects their lives before they go out and get it,” he said.
The $7.25 billion in stimulus funds is only the beginning of the President’s broader vision, and won’t solve all of America’s broadband issues Seifert acknowledged. But the grant program is being designed to attract both pulic and private investment that help encourage the President’s goal of “broadband for all of us.” This will require projects that will let both the public and private sectors “show us the way forward to the future,” he said. If private capital isn’t invested, communities can use the program to “address their own needs in creative and innovative ways.”
The BTOP grant program rules will encourage business plans that “address the neeeds of the statute,” Seifert said — “job creation, job training, and hub zones.” This includes a focus on deploying new technology around “anchor institutions” including hospitals, libraries, and educational institutions, in order to reach “vulnerable populations” like seniors, rural consumers and Americans with disabilities. “We’re trying to design a program that will attract projects that will try and bring these disparate groups together,” he said.
NTIA is working hard with the Agriculture department’s Rural Utility Service to to create a unified application, which Seifert said would be a “major achievment.” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke (D) is committed to making sure the program has he full support of the department, he said. Locke understands NTIA has to move quickly because the program is ultimately about the Recovery Act, Seifert said. And while Locke is committed to making sure the program is right for the immediate needs of “main street,” the program must have a long term view and it must be successful: “We have to do it fast and right.”