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Number 2 NTIA Official: Changes Coming to Broadband Stimulus Program

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Editor’s note: This story has been corrected; see below.

NEW ORLEANS, September 30, 2009 – The number two official chief of staff at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Wednesday that there will be changes in the rules governing the broadband stimulus program, and that the government would begin seeking comments on changes in mid-October.

Speaking at the annual conference of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors here, Tom Power, chief of staff at the Commerce Department’s NTIA, also said that there were many advantages of consolidating the final two rounds of the broadband stimulus program into a single, final application period.

“We are considering eliminating the third round, and going to a second round” for all applications, said Tom Power, speaking at the annual conference of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors here. “We haven’t decided that yet,” he added.

“The advantage [of eliminating the final round] is that we might be able to give people a little more time after the NoFA [Notice of Funds Availability] comes out,” he said. “We would love to give more time for folks to prepare applications.”

Besides giving individual applicants more time to prepare their packages for submission to the NTIA and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service, Power said that eliminating the third round would mean that “we can get the money out the door” sooner.

That, he said, “ties into one of the fundamental points [about the broadband stimulus program]: while this a broadband program, it is also a stimulus program.”

Discussing the current process whereby incumbent telecommunications operators are able to challenge broadband stimulus applicants’ proposals for submission on the grounds that broadband is already available in that area, Power said, “this has been mischaracterized in some areas as a veto by the incumbents.”

“It is not a veto,” he said. Such challenges by incumbents mean only that the NTIA and RUS will consider such information in making grant decisions. “At the end of the day, it is our determination” as to whether “the areas are in fact served.”

Also speaking on the panel at NATOA were David Honig, executive director of Minority Media and Telecommunications Council; Casey Lide, an attorney at the Baller Herbst Law Group; and moderator Gerry Lederer, an attorney at Miller & Van Eaton.

Honig defended the broadband stimulus program, even as he urged that Congress devote greater funds to it. “This is a very well-designed program, no matter what anyone else may say.”

At the same time, there will be many applications that are not funded because so many more applications were made than are funds available.

“To arm those of us who are public advocates, when we go back in 2010 to ask for [more stimulus funds], we will be able to say, ‘here is an applicant that should have gotten funded’,” but wasn’t, said Honig.

For further coverage of Power’s comments, check back on Monday for BroadbandCensus.com’s premium content, including the BroadbandCensus.com Weekly Report.

Editor’s Note: Although Power is the chief of staff at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the NTIA Organizational Chart lists Anna Gomez, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications, as the second-ranked official. We apologize for the error.

About BroadbandCensus.com

BroadbandCensus.com was launched in January 2008, and uses “crowdsourcing” to collect the Broadband SPARC: Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. The news on BroadbandCensus.com is produced by Broadband Census News LLC, a subsidiary of Broadband Census LLC that was created in July 2009.

A recent split of operations helps to clarify the mission of BroadbandCensus.com. Broadband Census Data LLC offers commercial broadband verification services to cities, states, carriers and broadband users. Created in July 2009, Broadband Census Data LLC produced a joint application in the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program with Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program. In August 2009, BroadbandCensus.com released a beta map of Columbia, South Carolina, in partnership with Benedict-Allen Community Development Corporation.

Broadband Census News LLC offers daily and weekly reporting, as well as the Broadband Breakfast Club. The Broadband Breakfast Club has been inviting top experts and policy-makers to share breakfast and perspectives on broadband technology and internet policy since October 2008. Both Broadband Census News LLC and Broadband Census Data LLC are subsidiaries of Broadband Census LLC, and are organized in the Commonwealth of Virginia. About BroadbandCensus.com.

Telecom Experts Offer Last-Minute Advice to Broadband Stimulus Applicants

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WASHINGTON, August 12, 2009 – With just two days away from the deadline to apply for federal funds to cultivate broadband projects across the nation, telecommunications experts offered their advice on the future of the grants process.

Casey Lide, an attorney with the Baller Herbst Law Group, said during the webinar hosted by Governing.com that he believes there will be two more rounds of funding for these types of projects although acknowledged that a third round isn’t guaranteed.

Lide expects future rounds may not focus as intently on getting broadband to the unserved and underserved parts of the country, as the first round has done.

“There was quite a lot of surprise and disappointment [about that focus] among the local government community,” he said. “There was a perception that…the program focused too much on the unserved and underserved” at the expense of other, innovative high-bandwidth projects.

He sees the first round of funding as an attempt to create a “thin skinned layer of broadband in rural areas of the country.”

Lide said local folks are hoping that the next rounds will be “more friendly” to local governments and municipalities.

Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs Jeff Arnold, who works for the National Association of Counties, said counties want broadband even if it’s not the fastest broadband available. “When you have nothing, even 768 Kbps [kilobits per second] is good,” he said, referring to the minimum requirement for how speedy the new broadband projects must be able to deliver data downstream.

“The biggest issue for rural America is [they] want it but need to be able to drive its adoption,” he said, adding that broadband suppliers have to be convinced to serve these areas.

Brad Ramsay, the general counsel for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, said California and other states have been recommending that applicants file early this week because of concern over the ability of the Web site taking applications to handle them all.

“One person was telling me that the Web site was already abysmally slow as of Monday,” he said.

For other people, it’s a problem that may never even come to fruition. Ramsay noted that applications requesting $1 million or more must be filed electronically. However, counties that don’t have broadband aren’t able to file the complicated, lengthy document online and so scrapped plans to take part in the process.

“It’s the ultimate irony of ironies,” he said.

First in Broadband Mapping, North Carolina's e-NC Now Wants Faster Speeds

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Broadband Census North Carolina

This is the eighth of a series of articles surveying the state of broadband, and broadband data, within each of the United States. Among the next profiles: Colorado, California and Missouri.

August 22 – In taking an inventory of North Carolina’s broadband assets, and in its push to stimulate high-speed internet investment and adoption, the e-NC Authority is arguably the most advanced effort of its kind in the nation.

Long before the current wave of interest in broadband data, North Carolina state officials were at the forefront of mapping out broadband availability; aggregating demand; educating the public about the benefits of broadband; fostering local “e-champions;” and providing hands-on training and access to low-cost hardware, software and technical support.

Now, the state is attempting to push forward further, by encouraging significantly faster connection speeds than are currently generally available in North Carolina, or throughout the country. In a report commissioned by e-NC and released in June, the agency called for faster broadband, a national strategy and more transparent data from carriers.

The state’s extensive efforts to date include an interactive web site with detailing geographic information systems (GIS) maps, annual reports, a detailing parsing of Federal Communications Commission data – as well as its own data from broadband providers – and concrete funding for digital training, high-tech business incubation and better rural connectivity.

For Jane Smith Patterson, executive director of the e-NC authority, the state’s central role is a matter of pride. “We did the first mapping from the data that we had” way back in 2001, Patterson said in an interview.

In the popular press, e-NC’s accomplishments have been somewhat eclipsed by the extensive media focus on Connect Kentucky, and the model that Connected Nation, Inc., has attempted to export to other states. Connected Nation is a non-profit organization funded by telecommunications carriers and state grants.

“Connect Kentucky first talked with us, and didn’t credit us” for work that e-NC had done, said Patterson. Not only was the North Carolina agency the first to extensively map out broadband, it originated the idea for e-community toolkits, and the concomitant effort to stimulate demand by talking up broadband across the state in more than 137 forums, she said.

Back in 2001, e-NC was called the Rural Internet Access Authority, created as a result of the Rural Prosperity Task Force chartered by the legislature. Among the major recommendations were to create a new public-private entity (which eventually became e-NC), to fund it through private-sector contributions, and to invest in business and technology telecenters, said Patterson.

In 2003, the General Assembly expanded the agency’s focus beyond rural areas and to distressed urban areas. It also called for e-NC “to continue the development and facilitation of a coordinated Internet access policy for the citizens of North Carolina.”

Between 2001 and 2006, e-NC issued more than $2.7 million in grants to build e-communities, including grants of about $5,000 a piece to “e-champions” in each of 85 rural counties. It later supplemented these grants. Also, e-NC awarded more than $1.7 million in digital literacy training grants, of about $20,000-$40,000 apiece to 28 communities across the state, and in 64 rural counties, that had implemented local broadband strategies. It also established 135 public internet access points.

Among the most significant of e-NC’s accomplishments, according to Patterson, is the creation of three – and now a fourth – business and tech telecenters. The first three were funded by the sale of assets from MCNC, a non-profit company created in 1980 as the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina from a state grant. The fourth center was funded directly by the state, said Patterson.

These centers “get revenue and provide technical support to community colleges, regional hospitals, and libraries because there is no one around” that is providing them with the broadband that they need, said Patterson. “What we tried to create were places that would be seen as technological lighthouses that would show, ‘look at what [broadband] can do for a region that is distressed.’”

The fruits of these centers are helping to build the case for faster broadband – generally fiber-optic broadband – in rural areas, said Patterson. They are also encouraging major manufacturers to locate in the state. “Communities that have FTTH [fiber-to-the-home] networks are likely to attract high-technology businesses and compete successfully in the emerging knowledge-based global economy,” according to the June 2008 e-NC report, written by attorneys Jim Baller and Casey Lide at the Baller Herbst Law Group.

North Carolina’s extensive interactive map has also allowed it to understand the impact of broadband – and the need to aggressively push beyond conventional digital subscriber lines (DSL) and cable modem service. According to the June 2008 report, two cooperatives in North Carolina are building FTTH at 80 Megabits per second (Mbps) – in rural areas.

“In contrast, the larger telephone companies, which are headquartered out of state, typically extent DSL only to about 80 percent of the households in the rural areas they serve,” read the report. And DSL and cable modem service generally top off at around 3 Mbps to 5 Mbps, for download speeds. That is about 20 times slower than fiber-optic wires.

Patterson said that she would like to see a state-wide goal of 80 Mbps to the home. “Even if you don’t get it, that is your goal, and you are always pushing for that.”

“What would help tremendously is a national broadband policy,” she said. “It is like saying, ‘we are going to put a person on the moon,’ and we did – and it paid huge dividends in terms of products and technology.” By putting a 80 Mbps marker out there, Patterson said, the policy would say to incumbents: “We want every company out there to be building at this level, and if you are not building at this level, than you are just not being American.”

Broadband Census Resources:

Broadband Census in the States:

Federal Communications Commission Data on Broadband in North Carolina

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Broadband Census North Carolina (Sidebar)

By William G. Korver, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com; and Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com

August 22 – In its bi-annual report released in March 2008, the Federal Communications Commission states that there are more than two broadband providers in every ZIP code in North Carolina as of June 30, 2007.

However, unexplained discrepancies in the FCC’s data mar its reliability, according to a June 2008 report commissioned by the e-NC Authority, a state-chartered non-profit organization responsible for coordinating statewide broadband policy.

On pages 57-59 of the June 2008 report, “Capturing the Promise of Broadband for North Carolina and America,” the authors carefully lay out the discrepancies in the FCC data. (See the link below.)

The number of broadband lines on June 30, 2006, and on December 31, 2006, cannot be correct, says the e-NC report. According to the FCC report, the number of asymmetric DSL (ADSL) lines grew from 561,102 in June 2006 to 648,201 in December 2006; while the number of cable modem lines grew from 650,757 in June 2006 to 1,040,513 in December 2006.

“While the increase in the number of ADSL lines is plausible, the 60 percent increase in the number of cable modem lines is not, as it vastly exceeds the percentage increase in cable modem lines anywhere else in the United States during that period and is not offset by decreases in the number of ADSL lines,” read the e-NC report, which was written by attorneys Jim Baller and Casey Lide of the Baller Herbst Law Group.

The e-NC report also notes that the June 2007 FCC report introduced further discrepancies, and unaccountably ranks North Carolina 11th among the states in its percentage of household broadband penetration.

The e-NC report summarizes North Carolina’s own data-collection efforts, including percentage of DSL and cable modem service at the end of 2006 for each of the 100 counties in the state.

With respect to the FCC report for North Carolina, the agency recently increased the definition of broadband from 200 Kilobits per second (Kbps) to 768 Kbps, however, since the June 2007 data was collected. Consequently, some of what the FCC classified as broadband in the March 2008 report is likely no longer considered to be high-speed Internet.

According to the June 2007 FCC report, 32 percent of ZIP codes in North Carolina, with high-speed lines in service, had ten or more broadband providers. The following is the data collected by the FCC concerning the percentage of ZIP codes on June 30, 2007 with high-speed lines in service in North Carolina:

Zero 0
One 0
Two 0
Three 3
Four 6
Five 10
Six 12
Seven 15
Eight 11
Nine 11
>=Ten 32

The initial set of data listed below regards the amount of high-speed providers by technology in North Carolina as of June 30, 2007. The number that appears in parenthesis concerns the amount of high-speed lines per technology North Carolina. Both set of figures are from the FCC’s March 2008 report.

ADSL- 33 (725,396)
SDSL- 18 (24,100)
Traditional Wireline- 20 (21,531)
Cable Modem- 13 (1,134,075)
Fiber- 11 (5,683)
satellite- 1, 2 or 3 (*)
fixed wireless- 8 (*)
mobile wireless- 5 (*)
power line and other- 0 (0)
Total (unduplicated)- 65 (2,894,042)

Of the 2,894,042 high-speed lines in North Carolina the FCC states that 1,877,677 were residential as of June 30, 2007, while 1,016,365 were business high-speed lines.

The overall amount of lines has risen from 205,100 in June 2001 to the number of 2,894,042 in June 2007, according to the FCC.

Only 85 percent of the time did residential end-user premises have access to high-speed services (xDSL availability) where state ILECs (incumbant local exchange carriers) offered local telephone service in North Carolina, according to the March 2008 report.

However, North Carolina ranks far better (96 percent) in terms of residential end-user premises in the state of New York having high-speed Internet services available (cable modem) where cable systems provide cable television service.

The following are the amounts of ADSL high-speed lines and Coaxial cable lines found in North Carolina as of June 2007, according to the FCC March 2008 report:

ADSL- 725,396
Coaxial Cable – 1,134,075

Editor’s Note: The FCC states that * means data has been withheld to maintain carrier confidentiality.

Articles and Documents Referenced by this Sidebar:

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