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Broadband Stimulus

Broadband Breakfast Club Webinar on Tuesday, December 17, at 11 a.m. ET: ‘Evaluating the Broadband Stimulus Program: Were Funds Well Spent?’

in Broadband's Impact/Events/FCC/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, December 11, 2013 – The Broadband Breakfast Club announced that it will host a free, online webinar on Tuesday, December 17, 2013, at 11 a.m. ET/10 a.m. CT, on “Evaluating the Broadband Stimulus Program: Were Broadband Technology Opportunities Program Funds Well-Spent?”

Authors Gregory Rosston and Scott Wallsten, in a publication for the Technology Policy Institute, have called the broadband stimulus program “A Rural Boondoggle and Missed Opportunity.”

In the paper, the authors conclude that the “NTIA adopted a system that led to awards differing by more than a factor of 100 in terms of expected cost-effectiveness. Had it adopted a more reasonable framework, many more households could have been connected for the same money, or the same number of connections could have been realized for a fraction of the cost.”

In a critique of the study by the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition, Executive Director John Windhausen characterized the report as a misunderstanding of BTOP’s purposes. “The program also provided valuable support for public computer centers and promoted broadband adoption in urban, suburban and rural areas. Unlike an ongoing subsidy, BTOP provided a one-time investment in long-lasting broadband infrastructure that previously suffered from an inadequate level of broadband capacity.”

In a session moderated by Drew Clark, Chairman and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com, Rosston, Wallsten and Windhausen will debate the Technology Policy Study in the webinar on December 17. Register today!

 

Video: Mobile Health Broadband Breakfast Club – April 16th, 2013

in Broadband and Democratization/Broadband TV/Broadband's Impact/Events/Health/Mobile Broadband/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 – The broadband policy news and events service BroadbandBreakfast.com held its April 2013 Broadband Breakfast Club event:

“Mobile Health: Will Wireless Devices Help Solve the Nation’s Health Crises?” on Tuesday, April 16th 2013 at Clyde’s of Gallery Place, 707 7th St. NW, Washington, DC 20001 from 8 am – 10 am.

The Broadband Breakfast Club is sponsored by ComcastGoogle and US Telecom.

Speakers Included:

Keynote Speaker:

Jacob Reider, Chief Medical Officer, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, US Department of Health and Human Services

Panel:

Robert Jarrin, Senior Director of Government Affairs, Qualcomm

Deven McGraw, Director of the Healthy Privacy Project, Center for Democracy and Technology

Joel White, Executive Director, Health IT Now Coalition

Jacob Reider, Chief Medical Officer, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology 

Moderator:  

Paul Kirby, Senior Editor, TRDaily

Event Highlights

Full Event

Highlights from Mobile Health: Will Wireless Devices Help Solve the Nation’s Health Crises? from Broadband Breakfast on Vimeo.

How to Tackle Broadband Adoption by the Nation’s Underserved Populations

in Broadband Data/Broadband Mapping/Broadband Stimulus/FCC/Fiber/National Broadband Plan/NTIA/Rural Utilities Service/States/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON, Thursday, July 26, 2012 – Last week, the fourth year of the Broadband Breakfast Club Series came to an end with a timely panel on “Bringing Broadband Adoption to the Nation’s Underserved Population.”  Panelists from the private, nonprofit and state government sectors came together to discuss what can be done to promote broadband usage in order to connect the one third of our nation that still does not have a broadband connection at home.

While physical access to broadband connections remains a major concern for adoption, the panel focused most of its attention on the other prongs of adoption which involve cost education and relevance.  Efforts to subsidize cost of service cost of hardware along with digital literacy efforts were the primary concern of the panelists.

Just last week, Chairman Genachowski of the  Federal Communications Commission  and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, announced a nationwide digital literacy partnership between the 2,800 American Job Centers and Connect2Compete (C2C) extending the digital literacy training coalition to thousands of communities across the country

Drew Clark, Founder and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com, as well as the Executive Director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, started off the discussion with a review of the past four years of the Broadband Breakfast Club — and the videos  are archived on the BroadbandBreakfast.com web site.

Clark highlighted a comment made by Jonathan Adelstein, former FCC Commissioner and current Administrator for the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, at the June 2010 Broadband Breakfast Club, in which Adelstein spoke about rural electrification requiring federal investment in infrastructure but required an active campaign to promote electricity adoption. “At the time” added Clark, “rural America needed to be educated trained and sold on the benefits and value of household electricity consumption.”

The C2C initiative as well as proposed reforms to the Universal Service Fund, particularly the Lifeline and Link Up Programs, are two key collaborative efforts that shape much of the current discussion on adoption.

Clark added some background about the $8 billion dollar a year Universal Service fund, noting that most of the fund covers the high cost program which is in the process of being re vamped through the Connect America Fund, but $1.2 billion annually goes toward Lifeline and Link Up and is devoted to making basic telephone service available to low income consumers.  The broader question raised by Clark was, how to change universal service in the broadband era?

In summarizing some of the thoughts of Blair Levin, godfather of the National Broadband Plan, Clark focused on Levin’s recommendations that called for shifting up to $15.5 billion over the next decade from the High Cost program to broadband.  While current Lifeline is focused solely on cost, adopting broadband is about cost but also about digital literacy.

Clark quoted Levin when he asked, “how can we have  low income broadband  policy that embeds reciprocal commitments, mitigates dead weight loss, is sustainable, honors the dignity of those participating, and is based on today’s  rather than yesterday’s logic.”  Levin’s four suggestions included, the use of reverse auctions to reduce price, a concerted training effort to enable those who wish to learn, to use it, a multi-sourced mini voucher program to further lower costs like subsidies based on an agreement to use broadband and finally a presidential directive to eliminate paper within federal agencies within five years forcing people to adopt and go online to access these services.  Levin also noted that the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications Information Administration should be charged with overseeing the training and voucher programs that would be funded in part by private and nonprofit partners.

Talking on behalf of the Partnership for Connected Illinois, Clark said that collecting data and mapping broadband “ is just a tool to promote better broadband and better lives.  Our mission to collect and promote broadband is really useless unless it has an impact on facilitating collaboration for better deployment and education for usage.”

About 22% of non adopters cite digital literacy type barriers that prevent their adoption, this group include those that say they are worried about all the bad things that could happen when they use the internet.  That might be distinguished from relevance, these are the people who say, the internet is a waste of time.

Clark noted that PCI has applied to participate in the FCC’s Broadband Lifeline Pilot Program, “We call this ‘Better Broadband, Better Lifeline,’ and we are working with several telecommunications providers within the state to meet the needs of 35 rural counties by administering one on one computer training for new users and leading an outreach effort to enlist those not subscribing.”  They plan to bring together refurbished computers, digital literacy training and subsidized internet service through the FCC Pilot Program.

Amina Fazullah, Policy Counsel of The Benton Foundation, Cheryl Leanza, President of A Learned Hand, Sonja Murray, Executive VP and Chief Program Officer at Connect2Compete, Bret Perkins, Vice President of External and Government Affairs at Comcast, Rick Schadelbauer, Economist at the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA) and Jason Whittet, Deputy Director of the Massachusetts broadband Institute made up the panel of experts for the morning’s discussion.

Fazullah began the discussion with an update of some of the most recent changes made to the Lifeline program at the FCC, including a number of proposed cost saving measures, updates to the eligibility and verification processes and changes to the way low income consumers can participate.  She specifically cited the clarification of the one subsidy per household with the same address issue which had previously prevented those living in group homes, homeless shelters and senior facilities from participating in the program.

The FCC has launched their Lifeline and Link Up Pilot projects for broadband which propose to change the program from a voice subsidy to a broadband subsidy.  Fazullah said that all the applications for the Pilot Project were received by the Commission as of last Monday and over half the country is represented in the applications. She references a mix of rural and urban applications that all seem to have a combination of support for providing broadband service, as well as partnering with community organizations to provide equipment and digital literacy training.

Once the projects are implemented there are two rounds of data collection which will hopefully help move FCC forward in plans to modernize lifeline. “Hopefully all this data will show that just having a cost subsidy is not enough to transition low income and vulnerable populations to broadband. There are a lot of different components to being able to utilize broadband properly; it is more than just having the money to connect,” said Fazullah.

Only $25 million out of the total $1.2 billion of the Lifeline Fund will be placed toward the research piece to transition the fund to broadband.  These projects will provide data on how much of the fund needs to go toward subsidy, digital literacy and equipment, noted Fazullah.   She also highlighted the legal question of authority and what can be done with the money under the constructs of the USF and the FCC. “Can the money even be used for equipment and digital literacy support” added Fazullah.

Murray stressed the need for really understanding the different communities that we go after for adoption.  There needs to be a focus on creating relevant content as well as engaging younger populations to make them core learners.  These members of the community, noted Murray, are the digital connectors.  She expressed how they learned to interpret the technology that was most relevant to their community and then they were charged with the task of going and spreading that knowledge to their elders.

Murray highlighted the fact that C2C was a response and understanding of the FCC that digital literacy and access to technology is important.  Their first partners were cable companies that began providing subsidized broadband for families with children taking part in national school lunch voucher programs.

Perkins noted that Comcast’s program, Internet Essentials, was a response to the realization that connecting to broadband was a function of cost of service, cost of equipment, and digital literacy especially when it came to low income families.  Comcast launched its initiative across 4000 school districts in about 39 states and found it critical to partner with nonprofits, governments, and school districts to address the broader issues of adoption

When asked specifically about the seriousness of relevance, Perkins said “many people in low income households do have some disposable income but if they have lived their life without broadband internet why would they need to change now?”  Part of the answer, he noted, is for your children, for job search, and healthcare.  “Many things we take for granted, require some hand holding when it comes to non-adopters.”

Leanza wanted the audience to step back and take a look at the broader scope of problem.  The numbers she put forth show that 100 million people are not adopting broadband and 46 million people are living in poverty.  She added that while those living below the poverty line might have some disposable income, the choices they make will probably not support adoption of broadband.  “While training is useful, until we eliminate poverty, cost will still be a major issue.  Even if digital literacy is solved we will not solve the issue of adoption without a broad commitment to cost,” said Leanza.

Leanza’a broader point is was that larger scale solutions will need to happen on the federal level.  She commended Comcast for doing an excellent job of getting 41,000 people to participate in Internet Essentials, but, adoption is a 100 million person problem. “Corporate philanthropy is excellent but we will not be able to really tackle this goal without a federal policy change.”

Clark then asked the panelist why was it that if 46 million people are in poverty only 10 million receive subsidies for Lifeline telephone voice service.

Fazullah believes that a big barrier has been awareness as well as getting the social service organizations to include Lifeline in the bundle of services they help enroll people in.  Additionally Fazullah clarified that the 46 million is the number that is eligible for Lifeline, but that does not mean they are not receiving telephone service, many of them might be paying for it themselves.

Leanza believes that part of the problem is due to different rates in different states, subscription rates vary a lot by state.  In some states the telephone rates are already very low and in others, states might be offering their own subsidies

Schadelbauer from NTCA said that 5 different applications for the Lifeline Pilot Program were submitted on behalf of their member companies.  He also realized the challenges they face with the Pilot Program dollars only being used to subsidize service, rather than training or equipment.  The NCTA applications aim to look at the differences in discount options, whether a sliding scale discount works better than a fixed rate discount.  The carriers in their proposals have agreed to cover the cost of the modems while the commission funds would cover installation costs.  Additionally they partnered with Connected Nation to help with hardware and online training.  Consumers would complete taining through the offices of the carriers and receive an ID number that would then qualify them to purchase a refurbished computer for $119.

Schadelbauer anticipated that the proposed projects would cover approximately 1000 customers, so in order to comply with the FCC’s request for a control group; they decided to use lifeline eligible customers who have subscribed to broadband over the past 12 months.

Comcast is offering subsidized services for $9.95 a month and are enrolling families eligible for the school lunch programs for 3 year blocks.  These families however can be grandfathered in till their last child graduates High School.  For hardware, Perkins explained that Comcast is offering vouchers to purchase computers for $150, but digital literacy seems to present to greatest challenge.  One lesson they learned last year was that working through community based partners presents the best solution that meet specific community needs.  The number of community based organizations doing this type of work over the past couple of years has proliferated.

Murray believes to truly thrive in the global community we need to keep thinking about innovation.  There will always be a need for digital literacy, there is always going to be some new technology and some new application that we are going to need to be educated about. “We see this as a moment in time to leverage where everyone is,” said Murray, “it’s like a perfect storm of resources, government, private partners, public partners, that can come together and think about how to create a sustainable platform for what we don’t even know is about to happen.”

Whittet from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) notes that a great thing to come out of the stimulus has been the state broadband offices.  He urges many in the private sector to think of them as partners that can help bring together local entities.

With NTIA funding, MBI was able to create a broadband adoption website Mass VetsAdvisor.org  for the 400,000 Massachusetts’s  resident Veterans.  The website streamlines all of the state and federal benefits for veterans.  Whittet explained that because everyone wants to help veterans, it is hard to decipher what is real and what is a scam. MBI has gone through all the programs and accounted for the ones that are real and accurate.  For those veterans not from Massachusetts, added Whittet, one can go through and remove the state benefits options to access a consolidated listing off all federal benefits.

For the digital literacy part of the program, MBI is partnering with veterans organizations and other frontline service providers.  Every city and town in the state has a veteran’s service office and they have been engaged to provide digital literacy training. Massachusetts has also recruited the help of job creation centers and community college to aid in the digital literacy efforts.

In addressing a question about state and federal government services moving to an online platform, Leanza, highlighted an example of a librarian that had been helping community members with immigration forms online, but was thrown off by the number of times immigration and Customs would change the layout of their page and move different forms around.  “Once government places information online, the problem still remains of having someone handy to help with the access and navigation of these sites.

With regards to the issue of speed, Schadelbauer expressed the importance of certainty and long term planning for rural and underserved carriers to build and update the networks to keep up with community needs.

In Massachusetts, Whittet highlighted the 1300 mile fiber optic network that was built to connect the western communities through their anchor institutions.  He added that while data on speed is being collected at a census block level, he believes with the two years remaining in their funding the project should be re purposed to look at address level data to find out what is happening at the home.

An audience member asked the panel about the need for more money from the universal service fund to cover the cost of real broadband adoption.

Schadelbauer responded by stating that first there needs to be money made available to incumbent carrier in order to provide service in these underserved areas, “you need to have access before you can have the adoption.”

Schadelbauer believes that the data collected from these pilot program will be very informative.  Right now the amount of money to be spent to have a real effect on adoption is in the experiment phase.  There has not been enough data collected on price points for service and hardware, noted Schadelbauer.

Leanza pointed out that money for hardware and service is easy to calculate but money for digital literacy is a lot harder.  She is not sure the FCC is the correct lace to even house a digital literacy program.  “Right now Comcast is offering $10 internet and the Lifeline subsidy is also $10 but under the current regulatory structure Comcast would not receive any of that money.

Murray ended the discussion by asking “what are the outcomes we are looking for?”  Once we agree on those the solutions will follow.

Update from the FCC’s July Open Commission Meeting

in Broadband Data/Broadband Mapping/Broadband Stimulus/FCC/Fiber by

WASHINGTON, Thursday July 19, 2012.  As part of its July Open Commission meeting, the Federal Communications Commission gave an update of its Measuring Broadband America report.  This follow-up was the result of further collection of data from the over 7,000 measurement devices given to volunteers around the United States, and to show how the initial report affected Internet Service Providers’ broadband offerings.

The round of testing conducted in April 2012 included measurements taken from consumers using DSL, cable and fiber.  The thirteen ISPs that were tested serve approximately 80% of broadband users in the country.   The latest round of testing showed significant improvement in both ISP speed and accuracy of advertised speeds, even at peak hours – between 7:00 PM and 11:00 PM on weeknights.

At peak times, five ISPs now provide speeds at or exceeding 100% of their advertised speeds, compared to only two ISPs in the March 2011 testing.  Also, the accuracy was not improved by a decrease in advertised speeds, but rather by improved network performance.  All three technologies for delivering broadband improved from the previous testing round, though ISPs were generally more accurate in their upload than download speeds.

The report noted that consumers are adopting faster tiers and greater speeds.  The average user’s tier speed was 11.1 Mbps in March 2011, but that increased almost 30% to 14.3 Mbps in April 2012.   Actual speed increased even more because users adopted higher tiers, jumping from 10.6 Mbps to 14.6 Mbps, nearly 38%.

The adoption of higher tiers means that users could consume more data – whether by higher overall Internet usage or by more use of data-intensive applications.  In last year’s testing, the highest speed offered was 35 Mbps, this year seven ISPs offer speeds of 50 Mbps or greater, with four of those offering speeds of at least 100 Mbps in some areas.

The Commission applauded this improvement in speed and capacity and advance towards the goals of the National Broadband Plan.  However, the Commission noted that this exponential increase in speed and data consumption will have to result in corresponding increase in data caps to keep pace with user demand.  The Commission also lauded the August previous report for fueling competition among the ISPs, whether it was the higher performers touting their success or the lower performers increasing their speeds.

Another round of testing which will include satellite broadband data is scheduled for the fall, with a report to be delivered in late 2012.  The July 2012 report can be found at http://www.fcc.gov/measuring-broadband-america/2012/july.

 

What Challenges Are We Still Facing in Seniors Getting Online: What Have We Learned and What Are the Remaining Obstacles?

in Broadband Stimulus/Broadband's Impact/FCC/Health/Mobile Broadband/National Broadband Plan/NTIA/Universal Service/Wireless by

WASHINGTON Thursday May 17 2012 – Nearly two years after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s (ARRA) broadband deployment and adoption projects were funded and the National Broadband Plan was adopted, we are still dealing with 100 million Americans who do not receive broadband in the home.  While 65% of the population uses broadband, only 35% of Americans 65 and older are online.   Government officials and industry representatives met on Tuesday morning to discuss the need for seniors to embrace technological development, the adoption efforts geared toward senior citizens, and whether or not those efforts are working.

Debra Berlyn, President of Consumer Policy Solutions and founder of Project GOAL (Getting Older Adults Online) co-hosted this month’s Broadband Breakfast on “What Lessons Are We Learning in Getting older Adults Online,” and introduced the Keynote speaker Anthony Wilhelm, Director, Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), at the US Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA).

Wilhelm began by comparing the task at hand with getting seniors online to his experience in 2008 working on the DTV transition.  Wilhelm told the audience that he was struck by how valuable television was to many in this population demographic, often times it was their their primary source of information about the outside world.

His second takeaway was how important partnerships were for addressing the major challenges we face as a country. “Whether it is the transition to digital television or addressing the challenge of having 100 million Americans or 1 in 2 seniors without broadband in their homes, public-private partnerships are essential to attacking these problems effectively “ said Wilhelm. “Government, industry and non-profits need to all work together.”

The importance of internet to seniors is both social and economic. “Seniors need to be online to be productive and to be full participants in our society.” Wilhelm added, “It’s not so much what the internet can do for seniors but what seniors can do for the internet…seniors are the most experienced and some of the most creative members of our economy.”

The Director highlighted the efforts NTIA has been taking to address the issue of getting seniors online.  First he pointed to the Digital Nation Reports, highlighting that the latest reports show an 11 percentage point divide between seniors and the population in adopting broadband in the home.  The reports also show that when asked why they were not adopting, seniors had different reasons than the population as a whole.  For seniors, the biggest barrier to entry was relevance, and were much less likely to give price as a reason.

Wilhelm saw this as a positive sign, “relevance I think we can overcome.” Many BTOP grants can address this issue, “we all know once you are online this is a barrier that is easy to overcome by collaborations between industry government and the non-profit sector”.

Wilhelm also placed a lot of emphasis on the portal that NTIA launched last May, digitalliteracy.gov, an interagency collaboration including the FCC, which brings together lessons learned from initiatives across the country and hosts all the data in one place.  It allows practitioners solve problems in the field by analyzing what others have done, what has been working, and what curriculums are being implemented.

Wilhelm then provided some statistics regarding the 230 BTOP awards that were made in September 2010.  As of March 31st, these projects, funded through BTOP, which have reached their half-way point have: deployed or updated more than 56,000 miles of broadband infrastructure, connected more than 8000 community anchor institutions to high speed internet, entered into 400 interconnection agreements with 3rd party vendors to leverage their networks, have installed more than 30,000 work stations in public computing centers, and have provided more than 7 million hours in computer training to over 2 million users.

Anyone can go to the BTOP website and click on the Connecting Americas Communities Interactive Map to find a visual depiction of where these investments have been made and for which purposes.

“So what are we learning?” asked Wilhelm.  There are some key observations that have been drawn from the first two years of these projects’ existence.

“First,” said Wilhelm, “making broadband relevant to people’s everyday lives is important.” Connecting broadband to immediate needs such as finding a job, applying for benefits and connecting with family is the first step. “Demonstrating relevance for seniors, for example, often resides with educating them about connecting with friends and families via social networking platforms,” said Wilhelm.

The second observation the Director mentioned was the need for trusted intermediaries.  He highlighted the importance of working with groups on the ground, local non-profits that are trusted and familiar to the senior community. Examples of success in adoption through intermediaries come from residents that were originally non users and then became trainers for others.  Intergenerational programs that encourage students to train their own family members have also been among the most successful for reaching seniors.

The third observation is to meet people where they are.  “Location of training centers in communities is important. Choosing locations that minimize travel for seniors is critical given mobility challenges for these citizens” added Wilhelm.

Fourth, projects should address challenges of fear of technology, for which the human interface is important.  The director highlighted data that many first time senior internet users prefer one to one education over larger classes. Additionally programs should focus on the basics like using a mouse, logging on to email, and then further steps to address some of their fears about being scammed online.

Finally, “comprehensive services need to be taken into consideration,” stated the Director. Call centers and extra support was needed for users after their initial education.

Next, Josh Smith,  Staff Reporter National Journal and moderator for the morning introduced the panel of experts which included: Josh Gottheimer, Senior Counselor to the Chairman, Federal Communications Commission, John Horrigan, Vice President, Policy and Research, TechNet, Tom Koutsky, Chief Policy Counsel, Connected Nation, Elizabeth Crocker, Executive Director, foundation for rural Services and Thomas Kamber, Founding Executive Director, Older Adults Technology Services (OATS).

Gottheimer began the conversation by answering a series of questions on the FCC’s role in addressing adoption concerns specifically for seniors.

From a digital literacy perspective Gottheimer noted that 66 million Americans are digitally illiterate and helping people gain these fundamental skills is where the FCC has been attempting to place their focus.  He noted that 38% of public libraries have digital literacy classes and that by working with industry and non -profit partners, the FCC needs to focus on letting people know where they can get the education and training they need.

Gottheimer also noted that when it comes to relevancy, the social side of connecting to friends and family is very important for seniors. “Studies have shown that from a depression standpoint, there is a 20% decrease in depression rates among seniors that go online,” noted Gottheimer.

The benefits in terms of health are also enormous.  If seniors remote monitor, they make less trips to the doctor and reduce medical costs. Another statistic Gottheimer used, showed that “for congestive heart failure, when there is remote monitoring there is a 6% re-admission rate, versus the national average, 47% re-admission rate.”

When asked about how the needs of seniors mesh with the agency’s broader efforts to address adoption and deployment of broadband, Gottheimer referred to the USF reform efforts.  “Many lower income Americans are also elderly.”  To address costs the FCC has launched Connect to Compete, which targets cutting costs for lower income school lunch families.  In many of those pilots noted Gottheimer, ones that provide students with physical computers, it is the children that end up teaching the parents and grandparents.

Gottheimer believes that in an environment where technology is developing so fast, more of an emphasis needs to be placed on the basics, how to use a mouse, how to turn on a computer, then how to use different software.  “We have to give everyone the basic building blocks and ability to feel comfortable online first.”

A debate was raised when an audience member asked, why did the lifeline broadband adoption program not include any funding for digital literacy?

Gottheimer responded by stating that the funding was restricted by the statute, but there has been an additional proposed rule to allocate some of the USF savings towards digital literacy programs.  Some member of the audience and the panel seemed to disagree however noting that there is debate over what the statute said and whether it allows for the funding of digital literacy programs as well.

Koutsky believed “funding digital literacy is both ancillary and reasonable. It is obviously ancillary to a program where we are going to be funding broadband deployment that we would also fund the use and adoption of the technology that we are about to subsidize.”

Smith then brought the questions back to the panelists and asked the industry experts about what lessons they have learned in promoting adoption for seniors and what are the greatest obstacles?

Horrigan believes that two things are needed to get seniors online, one is urgency and the other is measurements.  If we look at mobile phones, there has been an explosion in connectivity while broadband adoption has stalled, however only 13% of seniors are using smart phones.  One of the largest growing sectors in the App market is in the Healthcare app department. “So you have seniors with a large demand for healthcare services lacking the devices that can get an app to them to measure their health and wellness,” added Horrigan. “Urgency is getting seniors online to take advantage of the growing technologies that are providing greater value for them; urgency increases as technology advances.”

Horrigan also stressed measurement.  “We need to measure the impact of various initiatives out there to get seniors online so that we understand the recipe for creating sustainable broadband adopters.”  Measurement is needed to make sure that the government’s scarce resources are properly targeted and allocated effectively.

Koutsky is looking forward to the next two years of the BTOP programs in order to figure out what worked and what did not.  Then efforts should be made to place resources towards the efforts that actually worked.

Koutsky’s work through Connected Nations has shown that personal connections are most important when getting seniors to connect online.  He noted that the FCC has only proposed to offer digital literacy through class rooms and in institutions that have not offered this training before.

Crocker, whose member organizations are rural telcos, has observed positive impact from their mobile computer lab and digital literacy programs.  The rural providers have a vested interest in getting more subscribers online.  The operators of the telcos are also all connected to their communities and often use very creative community based ideas to help get seniors online.  The biggest obstacle for these companies however is money, while they would like to connect every home to broadband they often times do not have the resources available.

Kamber, the Executive Director of OATS believes that adoption of technology with seniors is a structural problem that has existed since at least the 60s.  The way to address these structural issues is to focus first on the basic technologies like getting online and email.

There are also issues of resiliency and information access, added Kamber.  With seniors some major issues center around lack of opportunity to observe in action and understand the value proposition of new tools.  ”Triability” is important, the concept where a user can test something out and come back to it at a later time and try again.  These broader issues concerning the characteristics of adopting technology also need to be addressed.

Kamber also asked how we are going to “take the groups that have built capacity and strategic capability and then make the transition from BTOP.” He wants to know how we are going to build a national training infrastructure from the information we have gained in order to best leverage government investment.

Berlyn then asked the panelists to talk about wireless.  All technology is moving to wireless.  A tablet, she mentioned is more mobile and perhaps more intuitive and might present less of a digital literacy challenge.

Corker agreed that wireless is important but reminded the audience that it is a tough sell for rural areas because there are not many cell towers.

Koutsky thought tablets were a good way to get around the subscriber model.  Connectivity is bundled into wireless.

Broadband Breakfast Serves a Thanksgiving Leftover Wrap-Up

in Broadband Stimulus/Congress/FCC/Fiber/Mobile Broadband/Net Neutrality/NTIA/Smart Grid/Spectrum/States/Universal Service/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, November 25 2011 – As we all sit and digest post Thanksgiving, Broadband Breakfast can finally wrap up some stories that we have been interested in over the past couple of weeks but have not had time to get around to.  We wanted to draw attention to a couple of the stories below and provide you all with some summaries and quotes to go with your leftovers.

AT&T/ T-Mobile Merger Being Put To the Test of the Public Interest

On Tuesday, November 22, a couple of days before the shot clock ran out on the review of the AT&T/ T-Mobile merger, FCC Chairman Genachowski circulated an order around to each of the Commissioner’s offices suggesting that the $39 billion dollar deal between the two companies does not meet the public interest and raises some serious questions of fact.

The order calls for the deal to be referred to an administrative law judge for a “trial type hearing” where AT&T will have the burden of proof of showing that the deal meets the public interest, accelerates deployment of mobile broadband and creates jobs.

In a private phone conference with some members of the press on Tuesday FCC officials, concluded that the deal violates antitrust law and does not meet the public interest because it would lead to massive job losses.  Officials also added that the hearing will not take place till after the United States District Court in Washington hears the Department of Justice’s suit to stop the merger.

The last merger that the FCC referred to an administrative law judge trial was Direct TV/ Echostar back in 2002.

How Many Geeks does it take?

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, The Gig Tank, part start up accelerator and part think tank is holding a competition in the summer of 2012 and asking budding entrepreneurs and techy college students around the country “what would you do with the world’s fastest internet.”  The details of the competition can be found here.

The best gigabit ideas, apps and businesses created during the summer’s GigTank will be awarded up to $300 K in cash prizes and investment capital.

This public private partnership backed by companies like Alcatel-Lucent and EPB, Chattanooga’s publicly owned electric power system, is an effort to foster new innovative technology ideas, create jobs and take advantage of the country’s first 1 gigabit-per-second fiber optic network.

As of several month’s ago only a handful of local residents and businesses have signed on to receive the $350 a month service which require special gigabit routers to deliver wireless signals.  The network however can deliver 1Gbps speeds to over 150,000 homes in a 600 square mile area.

Perhaps the GigTank will be successful in creating the added value to spur citywide adoption.

In Sebastopol CA, Sonic.net is testing a 700 home network and laying out fiber lines delivering speeds close to 1Gbps for 69.99 a month.  Read more here

The question remains, what will Google’s fiber network in Kansas City look like and how much will it run for?

Turkey Award Goes To…

Louisiana!

Earlier this month the Commerce Department pulled an $80 million dollar stimulus grant that was awarded to the Louisiana State University Board of Regents to extend Louisiana’s statewide research fiber network to the northeast corner of the state.  The funds would have created 900 miles of cable over 21 parishes and would have brought affordable 100Mbps to high schools across that region.

NTIA apparently pulled the funds because they were concerned about last minute changes to the plan that lacked technical and financial details as well as concerns about the ability to complete the plan before the January 2013 deadline. The grant which was originally approved to extend broadband infrastructure into unserved parts of the state, became a plan to provide long term leases to private companies.

Louisiana Commissioner of Administration, Paul Rainwater defended the state’s actions by saying, that even though private companies were going to be hired, state intervention would be needed that would have competed head to head with other private providers.

About a week ago, NTIA rejected the pleas of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to reinstate the stimulus funding.  Landrieu has called out Louisiana Governor Jindal for “fumbling the ball on this one.”

Broadband Breakfast’s friend and former Expert Opinion Contributor Geoff Daily wrote about this issue on his blog

He ended with these thoughts,

“I’m truly appalled at how this whole thing’s gone down, though I wish I could say I’m surprised. We continue to have officials at all levels of government refusing to acknowledge the basic tenant of rural broadband: you’re either subsidizing deployment or profits.

You’re either spending public dollars on building out public infrastructure, or you’re spending public dollars on trying to make rural areas profitable enough to entice private providers to build out their own infrastructure.

Has telecommunications traditionally been an area where services were delivered by the private sector? Yes, but isn’t the reason rural America isn’t connected yet because of a breakdown in this reliance on market-driven forces?

In my opinion the number one question on policymakers’ minds should be: “How do I get my communities connected enough to be competitive in the global digital economy?”

 

Smarter Cable Set Top Boxes for Everyone.

Last week the cable industry announced that CableLabs® – Energy Labs a new arm of the cable industries research and development consortium will launch a new initiative to improve the energy efficiency of consumer set to boxes and develop advanced services  designed to promote innovative consumer energy conservation measures.

According to their press release, “The energy initiative will promote the development, testing, and deployment of technologies that will enable cable subscribers to reduce and manage energy consumption in the home, including establishing new requirements for both cable video devices and network support systems.”

New cable specification will enable cable set top boxes to have “sleep” capabilities to reduce energy consumption when good old Uncle Buck falls asleep in front of the TV watching football after your Turkey Day meal.

The Cable industry has noted that by 2013 90% of set top boxes will be ENERGY STAR 3.0 devices.

The CableLabs® – Energy Lab will leverage the expertise and capabilities of CableLabs to build industry consensus on projects that will enhance current energy conservation efforts.  The CableLabs® – Energy Lab will:

  • Design and maintain a consistent and accurate energy tracking program for measuring and reporting energy consumption and efficiency improvements of new set-top boxes. Procedures for testing and advancing the energy efficiency of set-top boxes and energy conserving software will also be established.
  • Serve as a testing and development facility for designers of energy efficient software and hardware.
  • Create energy efficiency specifications for semiconductor and hardware suppliers and the network operations systems that support cable devices.
  • Assist in developing applications and products that will help consumers manage their overall residential energy consumption.
  • Showcase and demonstrate current and future energy savings products and power monitoring capabilities.

 

Former and Current Congressmen Talk 2012 Tech Policy and Beyond

Last week National Journal hosted a panel discussion on 2012 Technology and Beyond.  Although we did not cover this discussion immediately there were a couple of comments and shared thoughts that are worth re posting in a quick summary.

Bruce Gottlieb, General Counsel for National Journal began the first part of the morning moderating a discussion between former Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA), now Partner at Sidley Austin LLP and Congressman Lee Terry (R-NE).

Not surprisingly there was a lot of talk about spectrum.  Terry reiterated the opening statement of CTIA’s President and CEO Steve Largent, by saying “this is all about spectrum, we are moving to a mobile society and we will stifle innovations that come with mobility without the spectrum.  What barriers do we have to remove and what level of spectrum do we need to provide?”

Boucher added that “incentive auctions are a no brainer.”  He believed that in many cities where the spectrum crunch is the greatest there would be a number of broadcasters that will find greater value in their spectrum being sold.

Boucher also commended FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, by pointing out that the Net Neutrality rule was carefully negotiated.  “Stakeholders had major role in coming to terms with it, there was broad agreement… even Verizon really did not disagree on the substance.  I think the FCC handled it in an adroit way.”

Boucher and Terry both noted that in terms of USF, they had structured a comprehensive recommendation for statutory reform of USF that enjoyed broad stakeholder support.  Boucher mentioned that in legislative hearings, telephone companies large and small as well as the cable industry all endorsed the legislation that contained notable advancements that FCC has currently adopted including reverse auctions, transition to broadband  and denying support to incumbent LEC in situation where there is competition in offering voice services within that local exchange.

Boucher then brought up the need for another Telecom reform. “The last one in 1996 was about analog telephone and basic telephone services.  Today we have a transition to digital technology and the IP platform to deliver voice video and data.  We also now see companies that have historically offered different products offering the same products, a combination of voice video and data, and competing with each other.  A new era law would recommend a transition to digital technology and an IP platform for delivering all communications and would adopt functional regulations as opposed to industry specific regulations.  Today you treat cable different than phone and wireless when in reality they are all offering the same services that are competing with each other.”

Terry admitted to having same discussion in his office. “The FCC was built on silos, but as technology develops they are all moving to one platform.” – having discussions in office not yet ready for hearings – do we really need the wireless video and voice all segmented and regulated differently when it is all delivered the same way.

When asked about broadband infrastructure in rural America, former Rep Boucher the once champion of the public interest community, stated that the AT&T T-Mobile merger needs to be approved in order to allow for efficiencies in innovation build out and spectrum use to bring broadband to rural communities.  After a giant digital gasp from the public interest world Boucher did admit that his current firm is representing AT&T.  Still a 180 degree turn nonetheless.

The video from the event which includes a follow up panel discussion with Antoinette Bush, Partner at Skadden, Arap, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP, Ambassador David Gross, Partner at Wiley Rein, Larry Irving, Principle of the Irving Group and Bruce Mehlman, Partner at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, Inc can be seen here.

Driving Energy Smart Grid Innovation through Broadband

in Broadband Stimulus/Broadband TV/Cybersecurity/Fiber/Rural Utilities Service/Smart Grid/States by

WASHINGTON, Wednesday November 15, 2011 – November’s breakfast and panel discussion drew a packed crowd Tuesday morning as industry lawyers, lobbyists and experts filed into Clyde’s to hear from the Whitehouse, telecoms, energy management companies and utilities about the challenges and efficiencies that lies ahead with “The Smart Grid and Broadband.”

Event Highlights

“The Smart Grid and Broadband” from BroadbandBreakfast.com

Complete Program

“The Smart Grid and Broadband” from BroadbandBreakfast.com

Nick Sinai, Senior Advisor to White House’s Chief Technology Officer gave the opening remarks at the breakfast.  Sinai focused on what the Obama administration is doing to support, secure and modernize the energy system for the country.  He noted that although the current grid has expanded, it is fundamentally still an analog grid and has been that way since the beginning of the 20th century.

“The administration invested $4.5 billion in Recovery Act across 140 projects in 46 states to build a more stable secure electric grid that increases access to renewable energy and helps offer opportunity for consumers to cut their utility bills,” said Sinai.

This summer the administration released its Policy Framework for the 21st century grid, which lays out a roadmap for state regulators, industry and all Americans to benefit from investments in infrastructure.  Additionally as part of their commitment to Rural America, 150 million in smart grid investment was allocated through RUS loans.

Sinai also highlighted the administration’s interest in placing more information in the hands of consumers.  He said, “Aneesh Chopra challenged utilities to develop a green button to make energy data available to consumers in standard machine readable formats…whether through an energy efficiency app or broadband thermostat, unlocking detailed energy data in computer friendly formats is key to jumpstarting all innovation.”

As for broadband, the Senior Advisor stated, “Smart Grid increasingly needs broadband. The Recovery Act is helping to fund 1000 censors across the transmition grid to help prevent a blackout like one in 2003.” He added that, “all advanced meters and endpoints in homes are now being backhauled by broadband circuits.”

In addressing the broadband standards and technologies that are used with new smart grid developments, Sinai stressed, “There are opportunities to use commercial networks, opportunities to use public safety networks and opportunities to use private networks…all three happen today, all three will continue to happen in future, it is therefore important to use private sector developed standards so we don’t strain investment in any of those three options.”

When asked about the administration’s thoughts on privacy and security concerns in the smart grid, Sinai once again pointed to the administration’s Policy Framework where one of the four policy pillars include securing the grid both physically and from a cyber perspective.  “From a cyber perspective, the government needs to continue to provide threat information to industry, and industry needs to move from a compliance model to one where there is active modeling, assessment, and response to threats.”

Sinai added, “Smart grid privacy is an important issue. If you don’t do it right it will back fire.  Many states are thinking about how to update existing privacy rules in a utility context.  The flip side of privacy is data access, so it makes sense for states to be thinking about these in parallel, rather than just a privacy proceeding.”

Sinai steered clear of any controversial remarks regarding overlapping telco and utility footprints as well as questions about when the administration plans on clearing out Department of Defense Spectrum that can be used as wireless backhaul support for smart grid technologies.

When asked whether the government would endorse a time of use rate structure that would drive innovation and be implemented by the individual states.  Sinai told the audience that the federal role is not to tell the states what to do.  “The government has said that aligning incentives and experimenting with lifestyle rates and other dynamic rates allow for important innovation but these issues are to be left up to the states.”

Katie Fehrenbacher, Founding Editor of Earth2Tech.com moderated the panel that followed.  Panelists included, Jeffery Dygert, Executive Director of Public Policy, At&T, Arkadi Gerney, Senior Director of Policy, Partnership and Public Affairs, Opower, Paul Hamilton, Vice President of Government Affairs, Schneider Electric, and Sunil Pancholi, Smart Grid Program Manager, Pepco.

Some of the major topics the panel touched on included the importance of broadband for smart meter use, the privacy and security concerns of sharing private energy use data, rates setting and responsibilities of the states, and incentives for consumer adoption of smart grid technologies

Role of Broadband in Smart Grid

After introductions from each of the companies Fehrenbacher asked the panelists about connectivity to the grid and what role broadband will play whether connecting at the consumer level or deeper in the grid when dealing with censors.

Each of the panelists agreed that broadband is essential for Smart Grid infrastructure.  Where utilities used to take one reading a month, new devices are taking multiple readings per second that need to be synchronized and uploaded with no latency, “that type of connectivity cannot happen over dial up,” said Dygert from AT&T. “If you build a network they will come…we have a greater demand for a bigger pipes and having the infrastructure in place for better and more robust connectivity will create incentive for more people to create more Apps and more solutions we have not thought of yet..”

When asked about the stage of their development Gerney from Opower told the audience that they are still in their beginning stages of development in the residential space.  Mail is still their most important delivery method for expressing cost savings, even in the houses with smart meters.  They have implemented bill alerts through email that can notify customers if their usage has significantly increased in relation to the prior month.  They are still providing basic information about consumption, “if you can provide a small amount of insight people can take some big steps forward.”  Gerney added that challenges will get harder because they are still only picking off low hanging fruit.

With regard to creating a digital home Gereny said, “There is no one device that will make a dramatic change; we want to reach people through the devices they are already using.”

Dygert told the audience that AT&T is working on a Digital Life Project that would create a unified digital platform in the home that will incorporate home security, monitoring, telehealth, energy efficiency, smart grid as well as video IPTV and DSL services that can all be accessed through a single device.  He was not willing to give any exact roll out date however.

Standards and Hurdles within the Ecosystem

When asked about hurdles to the ecosystem moving forward, Hamilton suggested that different markets have different needs.  The residential market that uses 35% of the power but consists of 85% of the users, “care about safety, price and outages, after that there are not a lot of drivers for energy efficiency.”  “Utilities need to open up information so that you can have innovation from companies like AT&T and Opower.” Real drivers for residential households are access to real time information and price signals.

“Commercial drivers are different,” suggested Hamilton, “industry is very aware of managing energy.”  Drivers for industry include opening up demand management and demand response markets so industry can put the appropriate tools in place to react.

With regards to standards relating to data, Hamilton agreed that broadband will be able to provide immense amounts of very useful data for companies and consumers, but the key for useful information is to set standards around the consistency of data.

Gerney noted that the bigger challenge in terms of standards is whether there are incentives in place for utilities to provide products and services like Opower’s.  Instead of just selling power, “utilities are really in the business of selling energy services and meeting the demands of their customers,” said Gerney. More focus should be placed on creating the regulatory structures that incentivize utilities to want to meet the demands of their customers.

Information Privacy

Pancholi countered that Pepco is already there; they have worked with regulators and claim that they do not have incentives to sell more electricity.  Pancholi added, “the biggest debate out there is what is the privacy of information.  Customers and States are concerned about their entire monthly bill information going out into the internet where anyone can access the pattern of their utility usage.

Hamilton answered by stating that privacy concerns are a red herring. “We need to separate privacy and security,” said Hamilton. He argued that protecting data is about security and the utilities will have to face the same challenges that other industries face in creating a way to deliver their data in a secure manner.  He differentiated privacy as a choice that the consumer makes every day.  The way utilities can get beyond  privacy is by providing the data and information right at the consumer’s meter, then it is the consumer’s choice of what they want to do with it.

“Access to information is key to accelerating markets and making sure that those that understand and know how to manage consumer are actively and readily engaged.”  Utilities need to provide access to the information that can allow consumers to make their own choices one way tot do that would be by giving price signals. Since energy management is a low priority for many consumers those price signals and data can be integrated into other technologies within the home.  “These privacy concerns should not be slowing down the marketplace,” ended Hamilton.

Pancholi responded that they cannot just give out customer information, “the states would have to say what is acceptable and what is not…we are months or years away from having consensus on how to move forward.”

AT&T’s Dygert admitted that the largest impediment to smart grid and home energy management services has been this concern with jurisdiction by jurisdiction privacy decisions. He said, “Many companies including AT&T do privacy very well.”  It therefore makes sense that AT&T is currently attempting to put together an industry wide coalition that will provide a set of best practices around privacy that can then be presented to the states for adoption.

State Regulatory Commissions Incentivizing Utilities

A very interesting set of audience questions addressed the state regulatory commissions and asked how incentives can be changed for utilities to invest.

Dygert jumped right in and said that state commissions could rationalize treatment of smart grid investments.  He addressed the difference between capital investment and operating expenses. “Utilities get a rate of return on their capital investments but not on their operating expenses. Traditionally for the extent that a utility is using commercial communications for their smart metering solution those expenses have not been treated as a capital investment, which in turn means they do not get a rate of return.  This causes less incentive for utilities to go that route in the first place.”

Dygert continued, “One thing AT&T has done is to bundle a package of both the meter and 10 years of communications so the utility can take that to their state commission and say look I am putting in smart metering solution and have pre paid for the communications lets treat that as a capital investment that I get a rate of return on.”

Dygert also signaled back to his earlier comment and said that the commissions can create a set of best practices for privacy and data access rules.

Gerney added that incentives for efficiency are also important.  States should set energy efficiency goals and set standards for how utilities are compensated.

Hamilton thought there were additional measures that utilities themselves needed to take to prevent push back on smart grids.  He said, “utilities have not done a good job of bench-marking  what the real payback of these systems are and have not been able to communicate those with customers.”  He stressed that the focus on the customer is as important as the focus on the commissions.

 

New Zealand Broadband Plan Sheds Light on U.S. Plan

in Australia/Broadband Stimulus/Broadband's Impact/International/National Broadband Plan by

WASHINGTON, July 22, 2011 – Broadband experts examined whether New Zealand’s ‘Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative’ contained lessons that could be applied to the U.S.’ own broadband situation Tuesday at a New America Foundation Panel (NAF).

Panelist Blair Levin, Communications and Society Fellow at the Aspen Institute and one of the primary authors of the National Broadband Plan, exhibited confidence in America’s broadband future.

“The achievement that [New Zealand] will accomplish we’re going to achieve without spending any government dollars,” said Levin.

While the success of achieving the stated goals of the National Broadband Plan – originally published in March of 2010 – is contingent upon voluntary private sector participation through investment of dollars and innovation upon existing cable networks, the plan was first initiated by Congressional mandate in 2009 under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Under ARRA, $7.2 billion was appropriated towards investments in improving broadband infrastructure in the form of federal loans and grants, according to Recovery.gov. While investments called for by the National Broadband Plan are privately funded, significant upgrades to U.S. broadband infrastructure have already been publicly funded.

Panelist and speaker Graham Mitchell, CEO of Crown Fiber Holdings Limited (CFH), presented to a room of industry experts at NAF’s L-Street headquarters New Zealand’s version of the U.S. National Broadband Plan, the Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative. New Zealand’s plan – which involved a $1.5 billion NZ dollar investment from the government – seeks to bring broadband connections of 100 Mbps downstream and 50 Mbps upstream to more than 3 million people – 75 percent of the population – by 2019, stated Mitchell during the presentation.

Akamai Technologies – a company that monitors Internet conditions – ranked New Zealand’s Internet speed 27th fastest of 45 countries in its 2010 fourth quarter “State of the Internet” report, while the U.S. was ranked 5th and Russia ranked 1st.  In 2009, Oxford University’s Said Business School ranked New Zealand 32th of 40 countries in its Broadband Leadership Score, while the U.S. ranked 15th.

The NZ government established CFH to manage the government’s direct investment and work to achieve the goals of the plan through the creation of a new broadband infrastructure. The investment subsidizes the private sector in New Zealand to deploy fiber throughout the country.

By comparison Broadband.gov, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) website detailing the U.S. National Broadband Plan, states a goal to bring download speeds of at least 100 Mbps to 100 million American homes by 2020. According to Census.gov, between 2005-2009 there were approximately 112 million U.S. households. Under the National Broadband Plan, nearly 89 percent of U.S. homes would have access to faster broadband speeds.

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan, however, leverages the existing cable infrastructure readily accessible in American homes. Panelist Joanne Hovis, President of Columbia Telecommunications Corporation, worried that this part of the plan would lead to the U.S. falling behind other nations in terms of broadband speed and quality.

 

“Why are other countries doing something that we’re not? They’re building something that is future proof and upgradeable, and we’re not,” said Hovis. “We’re relying on systems that were built in the 1970s, and at the time, nobody else had it.”

Wisconsin Governor Asks State Legislature for Broadband Funding

in Broadband Stimulus/Broadband's Impact/States by

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2010 – On Monday Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle went before the state’s joint finance committee to ask that they approve the use of $23 Million in stimulus funding. It is unclear if the state received the funds through the BTOP or BIP grants but it will have to spend $5.7 Million of their own funds through the Technology for Educational Achievement (TEACH) program.

The funding would provide fiber optic connections for schools in over 70 districts by the end of this year and by the end of 2011 over 380 libraries would receive connections.

“This plan is a big step toward ensuring that every Wisconsin resident has access to broadband Internet,” said Thad Nation, Executive Director of Wired Wisconsin;  “[This] is one of the best ways to foster economic development, support additional educational opportunities, and increase connections between citizens across the state, and we encourage the Joint Finance Committee to approve this crucial funding.”

Governor Doyle went onto say that every citizen needs equal access to high speed internet access “regardless of demographics, geography of economic status,”

The project is projected to employ over 300 people during the initial construction phase and will push the network within three miles of 390 law enforcement agencies, nearly 300 fire departments and 119 hospitals which will allow these groups to potentially tap into the network.

Additionally Wired Wisconsin projects that 91,000 will be able to gain better access as a result of this new deployment.

Commerce Department Inspector General Scores BTOP

in Broadband Stimulus/FCC by

WASHINGTON, April 14, 2010 – After a post-grant review found numerous inefficiencies and unforeseen problems in the first round of Broadband Technology Opportunity Program grants caused by the sheer size of the program, Commerce Department Inspector General demanded that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration create a plan to improve the efficiency and fairness of both the application process and overall management of BTOP.

The plan must be submitted within the next two months, according to a letter accompanying the IG’s report on the program dated April 8.

BTOP is the largest grant program NTIA has ever managed, the report found. While NTIA had previously managed grant programs, the sheer size of BTOP dwarfed all such efforts.

Additionally, BTOP also involves coordination and awards to both for-profit and non-profit entities as well as state, local and tribal governments – as well as co-coordination with the Federal Communications Commission.

But while NTIA managed to reach its deadlines for awarding grants, it has not yet been able to complete a comprehensive analysis of BTOP’s efficiency during the pre-award process due to the need to get the program quickly up to speed.

The lack of specialized personnel to implement BTOP also hampered NTIA’s efficiency, said the OIG report. And while most positions in the BTOP program office have been filled – an improvement from November, 2009 when the office lacked 20 percent of needed personnel – those staffing levels will most likely be insufficient to process the next rounds of grant applications, the IG said.

NTIA has failed to adequately document the activities of the BTOP program, the report found. Specifically, NTIA “has not documented its policies and procedures establishing clear areas of authority and responsibility or detailing appropriate lines of reporting and resolving issues that arise during the due-diligence process,” the IG said.

This problem was exacerbated when BTOP staff had questions related to the grant approval process and did not know who was properly trained or had the authority to answer the query, the report noted. And delegation of authority when a member of the group’s senior staff had to recuse themselves from the pre-approval process. While many of these problems were fixed by January, 2010, the report found that on the whole, NTIA “has gone more than a year into the program without fully documented procedures.”

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