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Obama Telecom Department Wants To Recover Role As Prime Mover On Nation’s Internet Policies

in NTIA/Recovery Act by

SAN FRANCISCO, December 2, 2009 - The Commerce Department's telecom arm is re-asserting itself as the prime voice for the Obama administration's internet policies, said its chief Larry Strickling Tuesday.

Strickling didn't provide any other details other than saying that former MIT Professor Daniel J. Weitzner is in charge of the National Telecommunications  and Information Administration's policy shop, and that the scope of the portfolio would be wide. It will encompass the administration's positions on issues such as individual privacy on the internet, he said. He made the remarks at Supernova, an annual conference on innovation. The conference has been organized for several years by former FCC staffer and current Wharton business school Professor Kevin Werbach, who also served on President Obama's transition team.

When asked how he thought FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski might react to his statement, Strickling said:  "I think he supports it. The NTIA speaks for the Obama administration. The FCC does not."

The NTIA took a very active role in establishing the administration's position on the Telecom Act of 1996 under the Clinton Administration. The NTIA's assistant secretary  at the time, Larry Irving, met with White House advisers every Tuesday morning to hash out policy ideas.  NTIA officials also currently co-ordinate with White House office of science and technology policy officials.

Separately, Strickling said that the NTIA would be unveiling the winners of the first round of the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus grants in the next couple of weeks.

Members of Congress and some applicants for the funds have criticized the NTIA and the Department of Agriculture for not releasing the funds fast enough.

But Strickling said Tuesday that the department has been working hard to make sure that the projects that do get funded are going to use the money efficiently, and that they are going to be sustainable in the long run -- meaning that they'll still be in operation in five years.

The commercial sector, for its part, is littered with failed telecommunications projects, particularly in the area of wireless broadband.

"It's important that these people have a business case, and that revenues that they’re generating will exceed operations costs," Strickling said.

Sarah Lai Stirland was Contributing Editor for until April 2011. She has covered business, finance and legal affairs, telecommunications and tech policy for 15 years from New York, Washington and San Francisco. She has written for Red Herring, National Journal's Technology Daily, and She's a native of London and Hong Kong, and is currently based in San Francisco.

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