By Andrew Feinberg, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com, and Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com
WASHINGTON, February 13, 2009 – Advocates for federal promotion of broadband access breathed easier after a congressional conference committee reported a final version of the economic stimulus bill with $7.2 billion for broadband – more than either chamber had allocated individually.
The conference report provided for a total of $7.2 billion dollars for broadband programs. $4.7 billion will be administered by the Commerce Department, and $2.5 billion will be administered by the Agriculture Department.
The House version would have spent $6 billion on broadband. Although initial version of the Senate bill boosted the total to about $9 billion, the final Senate-passed measure put the total at $7.1 billion.
The legislation is designed to increase broadband adoption and deployment in unserved and underserved areas, and in schools, libraries, and to low income Americans and the elderly. The bill also encourages deployment of broadband services to improve public safety communications among first responders.
Some observers feared that the broadband section of the stimulus bill might be cut from the final conference report. But rather than reduce the amount of funding or remove the program entirely, the conference report included compromises on the amount and direction of funding for new broadband deployment, open network requirements, and the role of the Federal Communications Commission.
In a compromise between the two chambers, $2.5 billion will be allocated to grants administered by the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service. The House bill allocated $2.825 billion, while the Senate bill had allocated $100 million to the service.
Under the final agreement, the $4.7 billion administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department comes with several specific requirements.
Of the $4.7 billion in NTIA funds, up to $200 million are reserved for “public computer center capacity,” specifically community colleges and public libraries. Another $250 million is set aside for competitive grants for “innovative programs to encourage sustainable adoption of broadband services.” Another $10 million will go to oversight by the department’s inspector general.
The final version will make up to $350 million from the $4.7 billion in NTIA funds available for broadband mapping.
In a change from both the Senate and House versions, however, that $350 million “may be expended pursuant to Public Law 11-385 [the Broadband Data and Improvement Act] and for the purposes of developing and maintaining a broadband inventory map pursuant to division B of this Act.”
Division B of the fiscal stimulus bill is the section in which the NTIA is given direction on the parameters whereby it should spend its $4.7 billion, and in which the FCC is tasked with developing a specific national broadband strategy.
In other words, up to $350 million may be spend both on broadband mapping, according to the provisions of the Broadband Data and Improvement Act, and according to the broadband strategies and direction developed by the NTIA and the FCC.
The House had allocated $350 million to the NTIA to implement broadband mapping, while the Senate had allocated $350 million to be provided through S. 1492.
The Broadband Data and Improvement Act, or S. 1492, passed Congress last October. But the final version of the measure omitted any funding, and also struck the national broadband map that had been included in the House-passed Broadband Census of America Act, or H.R. 3919.
Additionally, the fiscal stimulus bill provides for the FCC – subject to the consent of the Appropriations Committees – to seek to transfer NTIA funds to the FCC.
The final agreement maintains the general structure of the Senate broadband provisions, which did not include the high mandatory speed requirements for the receipt of broadband funds that were included in the House measure.
The compromise version does add an additional section, Sec. 6001 (h)(2)(B), which requires that the Assistant Secretary of the NTIA to consider applications that will “provide the greatest broadband speed possible to the greatest population of users in the area.”
NTIA will also receive an additional $650 million for its television converter box program in order to make sure enough coupons are made available to Americans before the final transition to digital television transition on June 12, 2009. The transition was originally set to occur February 17, 2009, but was pushed back at the request of the Obama administration and with the support of the FCC and consumer groups.
The FCC’s role in the broadband grant program has been diminished somewhat. The House bill called for the commission to define the “unserved” and “underserved” areas that grants would be directed towards.
The conference report only allows the agency an advisory role, with the NTIA acting “in consultation” with the commission. Final authority over the “Broadband Technology Opportunity Program” will rest with the NTIA.
The conference report language was welcomed by many advocates of network neutrality, some who had feared the Senate version of the bill including “open access” requirements for grant-funded networks would be removed by conferees at the behest of the telecommunications industry.
Reacting to the Final Stimulus Agreement
The plan for a national broadband strategy is a good idea that is long overdue, said Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott. The FCC is the agency with the most experience to outline a national broadband strategy, he said. Scott said Free Press was “not too concerned” over the reduction in the FCC’s responsibilities over the grant program because the commission does not have any statutory authority to award grants.
Scott, along with National Cable and Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow signed a letter to Senate leaders last week asking that NTIA be the made sole grantmaking authority.
Even with the compromise between NTIA and the RUS, Scott said he thought NTIA’s role is “totally appropriate.” He said it would be “foolish” for NTIA to ignore the FCC, he said, since the commission has the most experience in distributing telecommunications funding via the Universal Service Fund.
Scott reserved his highest praise for the “open access” provisions in the bill, which direct the NTIA to require grantees to adhere, at minimum to the “four points” of the FCC’s 2005 Internet Policy Statement.
The openness provision is a “really big moment in telecommunications policy,” Scott said. By codifying the FCC’s policy statement into law for the first time, Scott said it indicates a clear legislative intent for NTIA to eventually go “over and above” the FCC’s rules.
Moving Toward Final Passage
Both chambers are expected to vote on the bill before day’s end. While the House is expected to vote sometime after 2 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said he would hold off on a vote until Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, could return from his home near Cleveland, where he is attending his late mother’s funeral.
Aides for Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said he would not be returning to Washington to vote because of his ongoing treatment for a malignant brain tumor. Also in question was whether any planned vote would occur after nightfall. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., an Orthodox Jew, does not participate in votes that occur on the Jewish Sabbath, which extends from Friday’s sunset to Saturday evening.
Broadband Census Resources
- House Appropriations Committee
- Bill Text, Division A, House Appropriations Committee web site.
- Conference Report, Division A, House Appropriations Committee web site.
- Bill Text, Division B, House Appropriations Committee web site.
- Conference Report, Division B, House Appropriations Committee web site.
In Discussing ‘Broadband and the Biden Administration,’ Trump and Obama Transition Workers Praise Auctions
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
“Broadband and the Biden Administration” is sponsored by:
As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.
National Broadband Plan Has Held Up Well, With Notable Downsides, Say Authors
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.”
Authors of the 2010 National Broadband Plan Say That a ‘Refresh’ Should Not Only Be Up to FCC
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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