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Massachusetts Broadband Institute Will Use Mapping to Identify Unserved and Underserved Areas

in Broadband Data/States by

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2009 – The Massachusetts Broadband Institute on Wednesday announced that it would work with the MassGIS, the state’s Office of Geographic and Environmental Information, to begin to develop a block-level map of broadband infrastructure.

The project is expected to take four months, and will focus on the unserved and underserved communities in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hamden counties in the western portion of the state.

The announcement once again puts Massachusetts at the forefront of the states that have developing policies pertaining to broadband infrastructure and deployment.

In August, Gov. Deval Patrick (D) signed legislation devoting $40 million of state resources to ensuring broadband availability to every citizen of the state.

The passage of the fiscal stimulus legislation with $7.2 billion for broadband, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has led Massachusetts to also aim to tap into the federal funds to leverage its state resources.

According to the press release about the partnership, the map “will incorporate multiple data sets into one map, creating an extensive inventory of existing assets and a detailed picture of where broadband gaps need to be addressed.” The press release about the agreement is here. [PDF]

“This project will provide a way to incorporate public input regarding coverage gaps experienced by Massachusetts residents and will put more sophisticated data to work in support of Governor Patrick’s goal to bridge the digital divide in Massachusetts by 2011,” said Sharon Gillett, who was named MBI director last month.

Gillett had been the head of the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable before taking the position as the head of MBI.

“In addition to helping the MBI make immediate operational and investment decisions in western Massachusetts, the interactive GIS platform created will be scalable in the longer term and well positions Massachusetts for state-wide mapping with federal funding through the Recovery Act,” said Gillett.

“This mapping project is a critical next step towards prioritizing specific and targeted broadband investments,” said Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki.

Housing and Economic Development officially announced the partnership with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environment Affairs. MassGIS, or the Office of Geographic and Environmental Information, officially operates out of that agency.

Massachusetts’ existing broadband map is available here. [1.65 Mb PDF] It is based upon information about which carriers offer broadband within a particular township or ZIP code.

Because the state makes the underlying data about the names of the carriers publicly available, independent entities are able to make sure of the information.

BroadbandCensus.com has incorporated the carrier-specific information from Massachusetts into its public database of the Broadband SPARC – or local broadband speeds, prices, availability, reliability and competition.

In a presentation to the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Gillett released two additional maps that show carrier-specific cable, telecommunications and wireless service footprints within Massachusetts. These Massachusetts maps are available on the NTIA web site. [PPTX]

In the NTIA presentation, Gillett also made the following point: “Transparency and accountability demand that if maps inform how public funds are spent, map data can be reviewed publicly.” The Gillett presentation to the NTIA is also available on the NTIA web site. [PPT]

Broadband Breakfast Club

Don’t miss the opportunity to register for the May 12, 2009, Broadband Breakfast Club at Clyde’s at Gallery Place. The theme of the April meeting will be, “Spending the Stimulus: How Can Unserved and Underserved Areas Best Be Defined?” Register at http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com.

Confirmed speakers include Rep. Rick Boucher, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee, Randolph J. May, President, Free State Foundation; Jean Plymale, Virginia Tech eCorridors Program; James Bradford Ramsey, General Counsel, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners; and S. Derek Turner, Research Director, Free Press.

NCTA White Paper: Focus Broadband Stimulus Funds on Unserved and Adoption

in Broadband Stimulus/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2009 – A White Paper released Tuesday by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association recommends broadband stimulus grants prioritize built-out to remote, unserved areas. Remaining monies should be used to fund programs to promote and encourage use of broadband services.

“Broadband is a crucial driver of economic recovery and global competitiveness,” said the report, “Moving the Needle on Broadband: Stimulus Strategies to Spur Adoption and Extend Access Across America.”

The paper acknowledges that the grant programs established by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act can help bring broadband to the “small percentage of the nation’s homes” that have no physical line connecting them to broadband networks, “to ensure that broadband fulfills its full promise as an engine of job creation… educational and healthcare opportunities.”

But the grant program must follow the Hippocratic principle of “first, do no harm” to existing industry efforts, some of which dwarf the $7.2 billion allocated in the stimulus, said the report.

This can be accomplished by making competitively and technologically neutral grants to reach the approximately 10 million households without broadband, said the report. Once it is determined where most of these homes are – a task made more difficult by the lack of publicly-available data about broadband, and the two-year timetable for the NTIA’s national broadband map – the focus should be to reach those homes: “[A]gencies should distribute grants so that new infrastructure is constructed in areas where none exists.”

The next, and equally important challenge will be to facilitate adoption and “digital literacy” among the 35 million households that choose not to subscribe, the report says. “Demand-side stimulus investment programs that promote the use of broadband… serve an important purpose.”

Congress has set no upper-limit on demand-side expenditures, the report notes. The report goes on to note Congress’ finding that Americans with low income and low education suffer a “double-whammy”  with regard to broadband: “lack of interest and lack of resources.”

And while the lack of interest can be attributed to different cultural views of technology’s impact on productivity, the report points out the lack of resources may only be a perception, since broadband is 4 percent cheaper today than in 2003, while dial-up is 9 percent more costly. Based on survey and price data, the report says researchers have concluded that “the decision to not obtain broadband service is due to perceived value, not the inability to pay.”

Grant programs should be targeted towards educational programs that promote broadband adoption and technology use, the report suggests.

Further grant funding should provide “targeted subsidies” similar to the FCC’s Life Line and Link Up programs: “Programs that support an increase in computer ownership are very promising and should be supported extensively.”  Such grants, the report says, will be “one of the most effective and appropriate ways to stimulate broadband adoption and use.”

NTIA, RUS Going 'On Tour' – Stimulus Meeting Times and Agenda Announced

in Broadband Stimulus/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, March 13, 2009 – After filling multiple overflow rooms at Tuesday’s broadband stimulus kickoff event, the Rural Utilities Services and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Friday they would hold six additional public meetings on the broadband stimulus.

Included in the announcement were firm dates, times and locations for the  six meetings: two in Washington, plus the satellite meetings in Las Vegas, Nev., and Flagstaff, Ariz.

The next series of meetings begins with an encore performance in Washington, D.C. on Monday, March 16,  at the Commerce Department auditorium.

The “tour” then heads west to Las Vegas, Nev., for a meeting Tuesday, March 17 at the Charleston Heights Center, 800 South Brush Street. The Wednesday, March 18 meeting will be in Flagstaff, Az., at the Northern Arizona University’s High Country Conference Center, located at 201 West Butler Avenue.

The hometown crowd in Washington will have three more chances to catch the show and make comments, with meetings planned for Thursday, March 19, and then on Monday, March 23, and Tuesday, March 24. The D.C. meetings on the 16th, 19th and 23rd will feature a speaker from a state-level utility commission.

Tentative agenda items for each meeting were also announced. The March 16 meeting, “headlined” by District of Columbia Public Services Chairman Betty Ann Kane,  will begin at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time with a one-hour roundtable and 30 minute public comment period on private sector eligibility for the NTIA and RUS grant programs.

Following a lunch break, there will be an identically structured roundtable and comment period on coordination with the USDA Grant and Loan program, followed by a session focused  on the demand side of the program -  “innovative programs to encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service and expanding public computer center capacity.”

The third topic is the focus of a combined $450 million in grant funding, with $200 million set aside for expanding public computer centers, such as schools and libraries, and another $250 million available for “innovative programs.”

The St. Patrick’s day gathering in Las Vegas and the Flagstaff encore on March 18 will follow the same roundtable and public comment format as the Monday meeting, but with different topics: (1) “reaching vulnerable populations, driving demand, and the role of strategic institutions,” (2) “definitions of ‘broadband,’ ‘underserved’ and ‘unserved,’” and (3) “selection criteria and weighing priorities.”

Both meetings will begin at 4:00 p.m. Pacific and Mountain times, respectively.

The last three Washington, DC meetings will return to the 10:00 a.m. start time and retain the one-hour roundtable, 30 minute comment time frames, but will each have distinct topic sets and featured speakers.

The March 19 meeting will feature two sessions focused on shaping definitions of “broadband” and “underserved areas,” respectively. The statutory language of the stimulus lets NTIA define those terms in consultation with the Federal Communications Commission.

The second session also will include discussion of how to best reach “vulnerable populations.” And the day will close with a roundtable and comment period on rural and unserved areas — priority targets for the $4.7 billion in grants  to be awarded by NTIA under its Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. The featured speaker will be New York State Public Service Commissioner Maureen Harrison.

Network neutrality issues could take the stage during first session of the the March 23 meeting. The day will open with a roundtable on “nondiscrimination and interconnection obligations.” While the language of the stimulus law requires “open access” on networks built with stimulus funds, the definition of open access is left to NTIA to define using the “five points” of the Federal Communications Commission’s Internet Policy Statement as a minimum standard.

The featured guest on March 19 will be National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners president Fred Butler. Butler, who sits on the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, is likely to figure prominently during the meeting’s second and third sessions, which focus on the role of the states in (1) implementing the broadband stimulus, and (2) developing a comprehensive national broadband map.

The stimulus package appropriated $350 million for “state-centered” broadband mapping pursuant to the Broadband Data Improvement Act, passed during the 110th Congress. The NARUC board of directors passed a resolution encouraging states to explore methods of broadband data collection and mapping, including public-private partnerships, during its winter 2009 meeting last month.

The final meeting on March 24  will likely appeal to the financially minded, with sessions on post-award compliance and oversight, selection criteria and weighing priorities, and community economic development.

Accountability and oversight of the grant programs could be a hot topic, as many members of House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, including subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., expressed a desire to see strict oversight of the grant programs during a March 12 hearing on Universal Service Fund reform. Boucher suggested oversight of  the grant programs might be a subject for a hearing in the near future.

Contrary to the unofficial motto of “sin city,” what happens in Vegas (or Washington, or Flagstaff) will not stay there. NTIA announced it will webcast each meeting live on its website: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/broadbandgrants. And all materials and information will be archived on the RUS site as well, at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov.

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