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Broadband Stimulus Package Should Include Funding for State Data, Says Massachusetts

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WASHINGTON, January 2, 2009 – Congress and the incoming administration of President Obama should include broadband-related investment in the pending legislation designed to promote economic stimulus, and the federal government needs to begin with better data about broadband availability, said a top Massachusetts government official.

In particular, Congress should fully fund the Broadband Data Improvement Act, S. 1492, which passed last October without any appropriated or authorized funding levels. Prior to passage, an earlier version of the bill had included language authorizing $40 million for the Commerce Department to allocate to state-led broadband mapping efforts.

“Full funding of the Broadband Data Improvement Act through the economic recovery package would be a wise investment that would quickly jump-start efforts to stimulate broadband availability,” wrote Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Daniel O’Connell, in a letter last week to the chairs of the Obama-Biden Transition Project.

O’Connell also urged flexibility in the way that states structure their individual broadband programs, extending stimulus funds to spur broadband demand among the poor, and recognizing that some forms of communication, like satellite service, are inferior methods of delivering broadband.

Massachusetts is one of the leading states in the drive to promote universal broadband deployment and availability. In August 2008, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, signed legislation authorizing up to $40 million in state funds to ensure that broadband is available to all the state’s citizens.

In addition to his capacity as state secretary of economic development and housing, O’Connell is the chair of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), a non-profit entity that will administer the state’s up to $40 million investment in broadband infrastructure. Last week, MBI posted the submissions it had received in its first request for proposals about the ways to expand broadband availability in western Massachusetts.

O’Connell’s letter, which included a five-page memo on the role of broadband investment in the economic recovery, laid out the approaches that various states are taking with regard to broadband infrastructure.

One set of states – including Massachusetts and Vermont – are investing their own funds in publicly-owned infrastructure, he said.

A second group of states, including California and Maine, have adapted their instate Universal Service Funds to support broadband deployment, generally through a surcharge of telephone service. Those funds are made available to companies, non-profits and public bringing broadband to unserved areas, said O’Connell.

Although Massachusetts chose “a public-private partnership approach in authorizing the use of state bond funds for investment in selected long-lived components of broadband infrastructure, such as conduit, fiber and wireless towers,” O’Connell said that the federal government should “build as much flexibility as possible into federal funding approaches.”

On the issue of broadband demand, O’Connell urged that stimulus funds go toward targeting services at “key demographic segments, such as older or less educated Americans.”

With regard to a Kentucky-based non-profit organization focused on broadband, he said that “Connected Nation has received quite a bit of attention for its user education activities intended to stimulate and aggregate broadband demand.” He also noted that “while the Connected Nation model is sometimes portrayed as a universal broadband strategy, the model does not actually involve any public investment in infrastructure deployment.”

Finally, O’Connell criticized the fact that broadband grant and loan program of the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utility Service “does not include any indication of broadband quality as part of their evaluation criteria. This policy is inconsistent with the Obama-Biden’s administration’s goal of restoring U.S. leadership in broadband.”

Separately, this week New York Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, also wrote to President-elect Obama, urging him to include broadband in the stimulus package. In a December 29 letter, he wrote:

“In New York, we have 17 broadband projects, totaling $88.6 million, which will help New York reach its long-term goal of ensuring every New Yorker has access to affordable high-speed broadband. Of these projects, nine, totaling $8.5 million, can be completed in 180 days. These include projects to light up dark fiber across the State and county-level private/public partnership projects.”

Editor’s Note:

BroadbandCensus.com has been surveying the state of broadband, and of broadband data, within each of the United States and its territories. The articles about the 17 states profiled so far can be found at http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=713

Broadband Breakfast Club

January Meeting: What Will Broadband Do to the Universal Service Fund?

BroadbandCensus.com presents the January meeting of the Broadband Breakfast Club at Old Ebbitt Grill on Tuesday, January 13, 2009, at 8 a.m.

  • Jay Driscoll, Director, Government Affairs, CTIA – The Wireless Association
  • Gregory Rohde, Executive Director, E-Copernicus/E9-1-1 Institute
  • Jennifer Schneider, Legislative Counsel, Office of Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., Incoming Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee
  • Curt Stamp, President, Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance

New Mexico Infrastructure Report Fails to Incorporate Broadband Access

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Broadband Census New Mexico

This is the tenth of a series of articles surveying the state of broadband, and broadband data, within each of the United States. Among the next profiles: Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

August 29 – As with other states seeking to promote the availability of high-speed internet access in a broadband-centered world, New Mexico is struggling just to keep up.

Despite boasting one of the world’s premier centers for science and research at Los Alamos National Laboratory and experiencing a recent population boom, New Mexico remains far behind the rest of the country in broadband and digital deployment. According to a report by the Kauffman Foundation and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the state ranks 46th in percentage of internet users, 49th in e-government, and 36th in broadband telecommunications.

New Mexico’s deficit in broadband infrastructure is particularly glaring. According to Federal Communications Commission statistics, only 78% of New Mexicans have access to digital subscriber line (DSL) service and only 77% have access to cable modem service – well below the national averages of 82% and 96%, respectively.

And the quality of service received when broadband connectivity is available is 15% slower than the national average, according to the Communications Workers of America’s Speed Matters web site.

In capital Santa Fe, policy-makers are beginning to focus on the state broadband situation. In 2006, Governor Bill Richardson appointed Thomas Bowles as his science and technology adviser, stating that “New Mexico is becoming a national leader in the high tech field and Tom Bowles will help further this progress.”

Sources close to Bowles say that the technology advisor seeks to drive innovation through technology, and that he understands the importance of improving broadband infrastructure as a part of this agenda, yet two years later the state has yet to produce a strategy for improving broadband connectivity.

“New Mexico has an opportunity to set national examples when it comes to broadband networks,” said Richard Lowenberg, a broadband expert and state consultant. Lowenberg is a long-time advocate for high-speed, open fiber networks who has worked with Japanese broadband officials. Japanese broadband has been noted for offering particularly high speeds at low costs.

There are multiple initiatives throughout New Mexico to develop municipal broadband wireless networks, community fiber networks, and funding through Department of Agriculture and its Rural Utility Service. These grants deliver broadband to rural areas and to Navajo and Pueblo reservations. Lowenberg believes that a comprehensive plan that integrates and builds on these efforts is what is now needed.

“The key is an economic model that aggregates demand, integrates systems like energy systems, and seeks out applications that help pay for these networks so that they can reach everybody,” Lowenberg said.

Besides telecommunications carriers, energy utilities, railroads, highway authorities and backbone data infrastructure providers should all be involved in a state broadband policy, said Lowenberg. Any broadband mapping project would need to consider all possible infrastructure that could be utilized in a state-wide effort to expand and enhance broadband services.

Lowenberg would like to see New Mexico “work towards a comprehensive infrastructure that gets us to where we want to be in 10 years.”

Governor Richardson has developed a plan, dubbed Invest New Mexico, to offer solutions to New Mexico’s “perfect storm of infrastructure problems.” However, the 55-page Invest New Mexico report fails to consider and integrate improvements in broadband infrastructure as part of the state-wide plan.

The Invest New Mexico initiative asks “what infrastructure can we invest in to expand our economy?” Yet the answers that it poses have nothing to do with the potential that many others see in deploying faster and better broadband infrastructure.

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