WASHINGTON, November 30, 2009 – A number of groups took the opportunity Monday to weigh in on the government’s efforts to distribute the $7.2 billion allotted by Congress in January to expand broadband deployment and adoption.
“Many of our nation’s most experienced broadband providers were forced to sit on the sidelines during the first round of funding,” said U.S. Telecom Association President Walter McCormick Jr., in a Monday statement.
“We are hopeful that now—with the wisdom of experience—we can make some changes that allow more of the broadband community to contribute and help achieve the important goals set by Congress to create jobs and spark economic growth by expanding the availability of broadband,” he said.
The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service are administering the broadband funds. Broadband Census News reported in November that the agencies planned to complete the first round of funding by the end of 2009, but due to delays, they now plan to so by February 2010.
The agencies also plan to then limit the remaining grant awards to one more round of funding, which they recently said “will begin early in 2010.” All stimulus funding for the broadband initiatives must be distributed by September 30, 2010, according to a statutory deadline set by Congress.
The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association on Monday asked the agencies to delay grant awards for the Broadband Initiatives Program and Broadband Technology Opportunities Program until March 2010 “to provide the agencies more time to investigate and rectify the known flaws associated with the first NOFA and ensure it meets in the agencies’ objectives.”
The U.S. Telecom Association, the trade association that represents broadband service providers – including AT&T and Verizon Communications – and their manufacturers, recommended that the two agencies target unserved areas and “urges the NTIA not to exceed the scope of existing FCC policy on non-discrimination and interconnection obligations.”
USTA said that “other roadblocks include restrictions on the sale of assets and the duration and breadth of program-related requirements.”
The association also would like NTIA and RUS to “require each applicant to demonstrate both the technical and financial ability to complete the proposed project and to ensure the sustainability of the project after funds have been awarded.” The association further said in official filings to the agencies that it would like to see steps taken to improve program transparency.
NTCA, an association that representing locally-owned and controlled telecommunications cooperatives and commercial companies, would like the agencies to “modify the point system relating to the proportion of rural residents served in unserved areas” and reconsider the definition of what it means to be a remote rural Areas. NTCA advocates revising the system that currently provides equal weight to last and middle mile, to make middle mile just five points and last mile 10 points.
Also on Monday, the American Library Association said it would like the agencies to simplify the application and review process and prioritize funding for “community anchor institutions.”
“Libraries are uniquely positioned to deliver on the promise and objectives of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Initiatives Program,” said Carrie McGuire, director for the program on networks for the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, in a statement. “We strongly encourage the NTIA and RUS to make changes to the program prior to Round 2 to ensure that libraries can take maximum advantage of this opportunity,” she said.
Also weighing into the thrall was the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which on Monday said it believed that there are several ways the agencies can improve the application and review process.
“This can be achieved primarily by streamlining the application process, especially by removing the requirement that applicants submit a list of census blocks for large projects and simplifying the online service area mapping process; revising the rules so that BTOP applicants proposing coverage in rural areas are not required to also apply to BIP; increasing transparency, particularly with respect to the application review process and incumbent provider coverage challenges; improving outreach and support; and using only agency or contracted staff to review applications,” according to documents filed on behalf of Massachusetts. (RUS – NTIA Joint RFI Comments from Massachusetts EOHED; Cover letter for joint RFI comments from Massachusetts EOHED.)
“Massachusetts believes that the RUS and the NTIA should prioritize projects that will deliver highperformance broadband service to anchor institutions, especially public safety sites. Priority should be given to middle-mile projects that have a “comprehensive community” approach, promote regional economic development, and address last-mile solutions …The NTIA and the RUS should also provide more information about how provider coverage challenges are evaluated and weighed, and challenges to proposals for deploying infrastructure through served census blocks should be precluded if the purpose is simply to transport the public Internet into unserved and underserved areas,” according to the filing.