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Top Obama Administration Officials Discuss Transparency and Broadband Data

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From Weekly Report

ARLINGTON, Va., September 28, 2009 – Top telecom officials from the Obama administration said that better broadband data, and greater transparency about the operations of government, were two of the key technology policy priorities factoring into the FCC's, and the government’s, approach to technology.

Speaking at the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference on Friday, these officials – including the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the leader of the broadband task force at the Federal Communications Commission, and the deputy chief technology officer – highlighted the need for better data on an ongoing basis.

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[private_Premium Content][private_Free Trial]“It is really hard to answer certain basic questions about broadband; it is kind of a challenge,” said Blair Levin, executive director of the omnibus broadband initiative at the FCC. “Let’s not bemoan us, we should fix it – the only caveat is, do not believe that the collection of data is free.”

Levin said that the need to monitor and track broadband superseded the demands of the federal government’s $7.2 broadband stimulus program in that collecting and analyzing data could “really inform policy” going forward. “The broadband plan does not end, but is the beginning of a process.”

Building on the point about broadband data, Deputy CTO Beth Noveck said: “one of the reasons that getting the data out there and putting it up online [is so that the government] can slice it and dice it” in new and unique ways.

Noveck discussed a multiplicity of ways in which the Obama administration was attempting to use Web 2.0 methods – including a Health and Human Services “code-a-thon” as a way to stimulate ideas on the interoperability of medical records.

White House Special Assistant for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Susan Crawford also addressed the need for better research, including research into the results from the broadband stimulus grants, in responding to a question from the audience.

“We are putting all of this money into wiring the country, but two years from now,” asked one TPRC attendee, researchers are going to want to know: “did it work?”

“We have to have more research,” replied Crawford, underscoring the President Obama’s commitment to devote three percent of the Gross Domestic Product to scientific research. “There is a commitment to the basic research” within the administration, she said.

Crawford and Levin encouraged the audience, a wonky crowd gathered at the 37th Annual TPRC at George Mason University School of Law here, to provide concerted feedback into the broadband policy process.

“You are going to file something collectively in November, saying, ‘this is the research agenda’ and ‘here is the data you need to do it’,” Levin predicted. “If we think it is good, and in the broadband plan, we adopt that and we collect the data,” then the FCC will need to know the concrete purpose for which the data and the research is necessary.

NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling, who also serves as assistant secretary of the Commerce Department, added that funding for broadband research needed to come out of the $7.2 billion allocated to NTIA and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service.

With regard to broadband data and mapping from telecommunications providers, he said, “there absolutely will be disclosure of certain amounts of the information,” including information at the Census block level. “We will be working with the FCC to find ways to merge that information today in a display.”

As to the funds allocated for broadband data and mapping, he said that the agency was not obligated to spend the entire $350 million allocated for that purpose. “If there is $200 million left over, it could [transferred] into another broadband program,” he said.[/private_Premium Content][/private_Free Trial]

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Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of and President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress. He is an attorney who works with cities, communities and companies to promote the benefits of internet connectivity. The articles and posts on and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

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