The New America Foundation and a coalition of 38 other groups on Monday submitted comments regarding grant programs of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce.
The comments specifically addressed the Broadband Initiatives Program of the Rural Utilities Service, Department of Agriculture, and the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Department of Commerce.
NAF commended both RUS and NTIA for their successful implementation of the broadband-related programs described in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009.
NAF said that it recognized that the efforts of these organizations has not only inspired public discourse, but begun to stimulate job creation and long-term economic growth.
“The level of consensus among such a diverse array of public interest organizations is indicative of the need for fundamental changes to the NTIA application process,” explained Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Initiative. “We are calling for stronger focus on holistic broadband interventions tailored to the specific needs of local constituencies and the prioritization of far more innovative approaches to digital excellence during this final round of broadband stimulus funding.”
In an effort to increase the effectiveness of these organizations, NAF offered more than two dozen recommendations, “emphasizing national and societal over the gain of individual applicants.” NAF said it believed that BTOP/BIP grants should target organizations and facilities with established community connections. They encouraged not only broad, cooperative projects, but also smaller, specialized projects as well as suggestions to improve middle-mile deployment.
Key recommendations included:
- Make the entire application public and available online.
- Prioritize Middle Mile ‘‘Comprehensive Community’’ projects
- Allocate a portion of the remaining funds available under the BIP and BTOP programs to promote a regional economic development approach to broadband deployment.
- Establish a Tribal Priority for those Tribal Entities seeking to serve their own Tribal lands.
- Set aside $50 million for a small grants program consistent with the goals of BTOP.
- Target regions with high unemployment rates for funding, though alternative measures of labor underutilization as a more accurate metric of economic hardship.
- Make public the content of all service area challenges and require challengers demonstrate that currently available broadband is based on actual speeds that are independently verifiable.
- Maintain the requirement that any network funded under the BTOP be open and nondiscriminatory and interconnect with other networks.
“The broadband stimulus program has inspired visionary new thinking on the important role of broadband in our communities,” stated OTI Senior Field Analyst, Joshua Breitbart. “The coalition’s comments highlight the best thinking on these issues from a broad range of practitioners and advocates.”