House Whip: Recovery Package Must Not Leave Rural Areas Behind

Broadband Stimulus, FCC, National Broadband Plan, NTIA July 15th, 2009

, Reporter-Researcher, BroadbandBreakfast.com

WASHINGTON, July 15, 2009 – Widespread broadband deployment and adoption is essential to economic recovery as well as social justice, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C. said Tuesday morning at the July BroadbandCensus.com Breakfast Club.

The recovery package planning process has been “one of the most rewarding experiences” Clyburn has had since joining the Congress, he said.

But while Clyburn compared the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to the New Deal programs of the 1930s, he soberly noted that many of the programs instituted by President Roosevelt left out minority communities like those he represents. “If you go back, you will notice most of the communities that I represent were left out,” he said.

Broadband access in particular could help rural America in areas like health information technology, Clyburn said. If broadband deployment isn’t done correctly, any national health care strategy will fail, he said.

Clyburn’s daughter Mignon Clyburn, formerly of the South Carolina Public Service Commission, has been nominated by President Obama for one of five slots on the Federal Communications Commission.

Mignon Clyburn’s Senate Confirmation hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

Following introductory remarks was a panel discussion on “How the FCC’s National Broadband Plan Will Affect Spending.” The event was the final breakfast in a four-part series on the broadband stimulus program.

Barbara Esbin, senior fellow and director of the Center for Communications and Competition Policy at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, said that the FCC’s national broadband plan “will look like a larger framework with plans for other plans” and that “if the plan calls for legislation that plan will be in the future.”

Although what the NTIA and RUS have been able to do is “admirable,” many of the projects funded will end up as “case studies,” she said.

What is important, said Paula Boyd, regulatory counsel for Microsoft, is funding projects that are “long-lasting” and “allow for quick build-out and returns.” She noted that the broadband stimulus package passed in February 2009 calls for all spending decisions to be made by September 2010.

Boyd also favored a “lighter touch of regulation.” “To the extent [that] you foster innovation, you will drive demand for broadband,” she said.

One effective way to spend stimulus money would be to build high-capacity fiber deeply into every community, said Michael Calabrese, vice president of the New America Foundation and head of its Wireless Future Program.

Calabrese also recommend applying for a project that combined fiber in the so-called “middle mile” with wireless availability in the ”last mile” on the way to consumers’ homes. That would be the “best way to get the most coverage” serving community anchors by using fiber as a “jumping off point” for wireless deployments, too.

Brett Glass, founder of Lariet.Net, spoke of the importance of broadband to small businesses. “Every one of them benefits from the Internet,” he said.

Glass spoke of how his business tried to extend fiber to areas outside of college campuses.

At the time, he said, wholesale broadband costs were high. Although the problem has ameliorated, there still exist bottlenecks in the middle mile caused by limited competition to hook up with fiber backbones.

In response to a question about how rural states with “spotty” broadband should apply for grants, Glass said that state governments should facilitate broadband development but not apply for the grants themselves.

These broadband projects, said Boyd, “will be part of an ongoing progress.”  Hopefully, they will “inform the ongoing discussion” and “inform what is needed in terms of capacity,” she said.

Editor’s Note: Please see http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com for more information about the latest Broadband Breakfast Club series.

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3 Responses to “House Whip: Recovery Package Must Not Leave Rural Areas Behind”

  1. Roger Hahn Says:

    Unfortunately the broadband stimulus package misses the mark. The scoring criteria favors the more populated areas of the nation. Like you get points for a project for every 10,000 household you provide access to – - in the plains states most companies who would have applied for stimulus funds only have about 50 to 200 farmer and ranch households they have not reached with broadband because of the high cost in areas with as few as one person per square mile.

    Then there are points for involving libraries, community centers, public safety organizations, etc. All of these organizations in the plains states have had broadband service for years at 3.0 Mbps or higher. So can’t get points here either.

    The way the scoring has been established it appears that the writers of this first Notice of Funds Availability should have made a few visits to rural areas and talked to the providers which number between 40 and 90 in each state.

    It should have been real simple, provide a business case showing the cost to serve these REAL rural areas (All the rural towns have broadband) with ranchers and farmers where the households are anywhere from five miles apart to 40 miles apart and the expected revenue – - then calculate the stimulus funds needed for the provider to breakeven. Breakeven is fine as we have a commitment to our citizens so that all families have parity regarding the benefits from broadband access.

  2. Roger Hahn Says:

    I thought you would have a spell check built into your “Add a Comment” software as most sites like this do include a spell check before the message is forwarde for posting.

  3. Paul Carter Says:

    Great insight. I am loving it!! Will come back again – taking you feeds also, Thanks.

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