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Recovery Act

Critics Call Broadband Program 'Rushed,' Decry Open Access Requirements in Stimulus Bill as Vote Nears

WASHINGTON, February 12, 2009 – House Republicans and conservative watchdog groups met at the National Press Club Thursday morning to air their grievances about the economic stimulus bill that they predicted would be wasteful and ineffective at jump-starting an economic recovery.

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WASHINGTON, February 12, 2009 – House Republicans and conservative watchdog groups met at the National Press Club Thursday morning to air their grievances about the economic stimulus bill that they predicted would be wasteful and ineffective at jump-starting an economic recovery.

Meanwhile the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., confirmed that the chamber would schedule a vote on the stimulus package on Friday. Press officials in the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said that the Senate had not yet scheduled a vote, and that a Saturday session remained a possibility.

Lawmakers should be taking the time to speak with the many Americans who are concerned about this bill, said House Deputy Minority Whip Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. Blackburn said Americans want congressional action to reinvigorate the economy, but are “appalled” at the amount of waste in the bill. The magnitude of it has them “grasping the minivan steering wheel,” she said.

Blackburn lashed out at the multitudes of new programs in the bill that she called “unnecessary.” Private investment, not government spending is the best fix the problem, she said, adding that jobs, not government handouts, are the “best economic stimulus we know.”

The stimulus vote will be a “sad day for America,” said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. In the rush to pass the bill, Congress is acting in an “irresponsible and selfish way,” he said.

People all over America are “very upset” over the “largest spending bill in the history of the world,” said Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla. Sullivan announced he would introduce an alternate proposal which he called the “Federal Realignment Act,” to create a bipartisan commission to review and eliminate duplicate or wasteful programs.

The package creates 30 new federal programs while eliminating nothing, Sullivan said, adding that “if you add something, you have to take something away.” While Sullivan admitted he had not read the latest version of the bill, he expressed doubt that the majority of Americans outside of Washington would support the final version of the package. “Not one real person in America thinks this is the right thing to do,” he said.

The broadband stimulus program should be a separate measure entirely, said Citizens Against Government Waste President Thomas Schatz.

Holding up an article in Thursday’s Washington Post, Schatz singled out as an extreme example of waste the House language allocating $1.8 billion to the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service program.

That money had been cut from the version of the bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday, however, and replaced with a broadband fund of up to $6.65 billion. Additionally, the Senate-passed version calls for up to $350 million for broadband mapping, and $100 million in loans and grants for broadband in rural areas.

Referring to the $1.8 billion in RUS funding that had been in the House version of the stimulus, Schatz said it was equal to what the agency had received for broadband over the last six years.

Of the 68 projects RUS has funded during that time, only 21 had even been started, he said. The broadband program is a prime example of the ineffective and wasteful spending that is endemic to the stimulus bill, he said.

Acknowledging that the  Senate-passed bill put the broadband program under the auspices of the NTIA – a nod to the criticism that many had of the RUS — he was adamant that broadband funds aren’t appropriate for a stimulus measure.

Any project that takes seven years to complete is “not an immediate stimulus,” and doesn’t even meet the Obama administration’s own stated test for inclusion, he said.

Schatz said tax credits would be a better solution for expanding broadband deployment. But the grant program is “an awful lot of money to throw out, and it’s not clear whether or not it’s going to be effective.”

Schatz also decried the proposed open access provisions of the broadband program. He said that the open access requirements are nothing but a form of network neutrality, which his group opposes.

Schatz was adamant that “any discussion of broadband should be kept out of the stimulus bill” because the money “would not be spent quickly.” The purpose of the bill is to get people back to work as quickly as possible, he said.

There needs to be a real debate over whether tax credits and incentives would be more effective to expand broadband services, he said. With government grants, net neutrality policies remain “a concern” for Schatz.

He cited last year’s FCC’s ruling against Comcast’s network management practices and the desire of many lawmakers for net neutrality legislation as evidence that the open access requirements should also be taken up in a separate measure.

But regardless of the definition of open access, Schatz remained convinced that broadband has no place in a short term stimulus package. “You can’t build a broadband network in a year,” he said.

A procedural rule requiring a 48-hour period for members to read the conference report means House leadership must wait until at least Friday for its vote.

The Senate schedule was still in flux. While an earlier vote had been a possibility, Reid’s office confirmed that no vote was currently scheduled. Some Democrats are unhappy with cuts to educational programs in the conference report, and could press for further negotiations.

Andrew Feinberg is the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Broadband Mapping

In Discussing ‘Broadband and the Biden Administration,’ Trump and Obama Transition Workers Praise Auctions

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Screenshot from the November 2 Broadband Breakfast Live Online webcast

November 22, 2020 – In the event that the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden seeks substantial funding for broadband infrastructure, there is a strong likelihood that such monies would be channeled through a reverse-auction mechanism, said panelists at the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on November 11.

See more from Broadband Breakfast Live Online, including “Broadband and the Biden Administration, Part II,” on December 2, 2020.

In a discussion with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, two broadband policy experts who served on the transition teams for Donald Trump and Barack Obama, respectively, championed the role of such a mechanism as efficient and fair.

Previous attempts to run funding through other selection processes provided funds only to the well connected, claimed to Mark Jamison, research and education director at the University of Florida, and who served on then President-elect Trump’s 2016 transition team.

Places with a Democratic governor or a congressman of either party that sat on a powerful committee were funded more often compared to other regions, Jamison said.

Whether or not funding mechanisms were in fact biased in that way, both Jamison and Technology Policy Institute President Scott Wallsten both praised the transparency and economic efficiency of the Federal Communications Commission’s reverse-auction funding mechanism.

Wallsten, an economist who was involved in the transition for then President-elect Obama, and who also served on the National Broadband Plan implemented in the first year of the Obama administration, criticized the Rural Utility Service and the old funding process of Universal Service Fund. Both said under these mechanism, a lot of money is spent without good information about how such funds are awarded or distributed.

Wallsten and Jamison agreed that more data would help make broadband funding more effective, they also said that the FCC was right to move forward with its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction on October 29 – part of the new auction-based approach to the Universal Service Fund – despite imperfect mapping.

In part, this was because any inadequacy of mapping data can be resolved in the challenge process, said Wallsten. Additionally, it is not clear that auctions like RDOF, or the Connect American Fund auction in 2018, would have yielded better results had the FCC waited to update their maps.

Jamison and Wallston also projected how the Biden administration might tackle net neutrality, Section 230 and antitrust regulation.

Jamison said that if the Biden administration reinstitutes net neutrality, it will quickly see that that won’t work very well.

Wallsten said that if it’s reinstituted the debate will be different than in the past. A large part of net neutrality is paid prioritization where third parties can pay ISP’s to put their content “at the front of the line.” He said that the pandemic has demonstrated why no paid prioritization may be a mistake, as many people need guarantees of stable connection for their schooling and telehealth applications.

Wallsten also noted that many made doom and gloom forecasts when the Trump administration FCC removed net neutrality protections in December 2017. None of those predictions came to pass, he said.

Both also agreed that the FCC should not be involved the regulation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech platforms from liability for user-generated comments.

They also were wary of changes to the consumer welfare standard governing antitrust because, said Jamison, “If you’re not regulating for consumers, who are we regulating for?”

See “Broadband Breakfast Live Online on Wednesday, November 11: Broadband and the Biden Administration,” Broadband Breakfast

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National Broadband Plan

National Broadband Plan Has Held Up Well, With Notable Downsides, Say Authors

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Photo of Blair Levin, former executive director of the National Broadband Plan, by New America used with permission

June 29, 2020 — The National Broadband Plan has been successful, despite notable downsides, said panelists in a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar on Friday.

The plan, first released ten years ago, aimed to increase competition, provide lower-cost service to more Americans and decrease regulatory barriers to broadband rollout.

“Ten years in this space in terms of technology is remarkable,” said Rebekah Goodheart of Jenner & Block. “At the time only 15 percent of people had access… of 25 megabits… The fact that this plan was able to stand up through time shows how visionary it really was.”

“All the stuff that we’re taking for granted now are things that came out of recommendations from the plan,” she added.

Participants noted that, despite broadband access deficiencies amid the coronavirus, “overall broadband adoption rates [are] going up reasonably well right now,” said John Horrigan, Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute.

But there are still significant barriers to unfettered telework capabilities, he said.

“We’re also waking up to the fact that smartphones, as useful as they are, have significant limitations for completing homework,” he said.

Ruth Milkman of Quadra Partners agreed.

“There’s a lot of stuff you can’t do on a smartphone,” she said. “It’s hard to read papers… and there are data caps, and it can be quite expensive if you try to use it in the same way that you would use a fixed wireline network.”

Blair Levin, non-resident Fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Project of the Brookings Institution, said that sections of the National Broadband Plan held up remarkably well, even ten years later.

“In the healthcare section which says, ‘We really need to utilize telehealth because someday there’ll be a pandemic’… it does look very prophetic,” he said.

Despite the proactivity of the policy, Levin said, it has certain shortcomings that the FCC should address.

“We’ve become much more aware in this society of different ways in which our institutions do not include everyone and lead to inequalities,” he said. “I would argue that absolutely needs to be a new plan… now it’s more important than ever because we recognize the importance of closing that digital divide.”

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Digital Inclusion

Authors of the 2010 National Broadband Plan Say That a ‘Refresh’ Should Not Only Be Up to FCC

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Photo of INCOMPAS policy summit panelists discussing the National Broadband Plan by Adrienne Patton

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2020 – Panelists at the INCOMPAS policy summit Tuesday looked back with fondness on the Federal Communication Commission’s National Broadband Plan that was released 10 years ago this month. They agreed that if the plan is refreshed, the FCC should not be the lone agency to lead in the changes.

The 10-year-old plan was designed to “ensure robust competition” and “maximize the benefits of broadband,” while fostering the spread of broadband across the country, said INCOMPAS General Counsel Angie Kronenberg.

New Street Research Policy Analyst Blair Levin, who led the plan’s development, called it a “three-act play.”

The first act was the hiring people. The second act was holding hearings and acquiring data. The third act was an extensive writing process, Levin said.

When asked how the United States is doing in regards to the plan, Levin said there have been great improvements and some complications.

Mattey Consulting Principal Carol Mattey who worked on the plan, said it was a “long and evolutionary process,” that often required “nitty gritty details” from complex concepts.

Technology Policy Institute Senior Fellow John Horrigan, who also worked on the plan, said that while the statistics do not show a large increase in Americans that have wireline broadband at home, smart phones and mobile devices have made a huge difference.

Even so, Horrigan admitted that for children who have to do homework at home, smart phones are not enough.

However, Horrigan said the way that policy makers understand and think about the digital divide has improved.

A decade ago, city mayors were not concerned about digital inclusion, and now that has changed, said Horrigan.

Levin disclosed his frustration with the “metrics” section of the plan. The availability of bandwidth should not hinder economic growth, said Levin. But, “fundamentally we’ve made progress,” Levin admitted.

“The regulatory process is too slow to catch up,” and legislators are hesitant to look so far in the future while also considering cost concerns, said Mattey.

Looking ahead to a possible refresh of the plan, Horrigan said the FCC should not be the sole organization reworking the document.

Levin agreed and added that broadband has changed over the past decade as well. He called broadband a “mixed bag.”

The whole federal government should be thinking about how to revive the plan and take into consideration cybersecurity and privacy, Levin advised.

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