WASHINGTON, December 28, 2009 - Broadband Census News Reporter Winter Casey touched base with broadband business strategist Craig Settles this week on what to expect might happen on key technology issues in 2010. Settles addresses government broadband stimulus grants, legislation, and mapping in the interview below:
Broadband Census News: What do you foresee happening to the money Congress allocated to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Rural Utilities Service for broadband projects in 2010?
Settles: I believe that a clear path to stimulus funding for the remainder of the program is being paved with these initial award announcements, so people had better pay attention. In some respects, this is a path of least resistance for NTIA and RUS .
Multi-county regional projects likely will have the inside track because they're easier to sort through, faster to review than a collection of small city or one-county proposals covering the same population size or geographic area and easier to administer after receiving awards. Middle mile projects in this scenario may have preference, but I think well-conceived regional projects involving mostly last mile also would have a shot.
Proposals with backing of their respective governors is part of that "least resistance" mode, so line up your political ducks now. Also, read the original legislation to review the priority list of who Congress wants to receive funds. It starts with local governments, nonprofits and public-private partnerships.
Though most of the initial 18 awards went to organizations that appear to be private companies, when you peel back the layers, some of these are companies created jointly by private and public entities, or private entities along with lots of public sector involvement. There are three or four nonprofit co-ops. The next round of award announcements should confirm if this is a trend. That means any private companies thinking about going it alone better dosey doe and find some public-sector dance partners.
Broadband Census News: What do you expect to happen on the issue of regulating internet access to support Net neutrality principles as the Federal Communications Commission has proposed?
Settles: Net neutrality is going to be fought tooth and nail by the incumbents until March, but for the love of heaven, there aren't any actual rules yet to slit their wrists over in despair! I believe the rules we eventually see will shift a lot of people sitting on the fence into the pro-net neutrality camp because they'll be consumer friendly without signing a death warrant on big incumbents. Incumbents are going to moan and complain regardless of what the FCC does, so just put something out there that's in the best interest of the most people.
Broadband Census News: The government has been awarding grants to states for broadband mapping projects. Will states be able to meet there deadlines?
Settles: As for broadband mapping, we're in a ass-backward situation with money and strategy going out the door before there are maps. However, as Mr. G [Julius Genachowski) and the FCC are telling us, this strategy plan is a living plan, as it were. It's going to move us down a path toward better broadband and needs to evolve as technology, market circumstances and available broadband data evolve.
Data from the respective states will make it to Washington when it does. The deadlines are nice, but you're asking states to create software database applications as well as execute an extensive data-gathering process and then roll all this up into a national database. That's a lot of complexity states have to deal with, and furthermore not all of the states have received their awards yet. A wise person would re-visit those deadlines. Accuracy should not be sacrificed for expediency, so let's re-define the metrics for expedient.
Broadband Census News: What legislation should be on the radar screen of those who follow broadband issues?
The only legislation that comes to mind immediately is the one that would encourage all transportation (e.g. highways and streets projects) stimulus projects to integrate broadband infrastructure buildouts such as laying fiber conduits and cabling, and the recently proposed bill for USF reform. The first bill is common sense legislation and should have passed by now, so hopefully that happens in the first quarter of 2010.
The second bill could be very beneficial, but the danger is that the big incumbents will dip their paws in and muck up the works. Congress might do better to hold on and wait for the FCC to offer its recommendations on reform, and tailor the bill to complement that. Otherwise, USF reform could end up with some of the same ugly baggage the stimulus bill brought along.