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Advocates Seek Accountability in Expenditure of Broadband Stimulus Funds

WASHINGTON, March 24, 2009 – At the final day of a six-day public forum about the federal government’s $7.2 billion broadband stimulus funding on Tuesday morning, the discussion made a sharp turn toward a focus on oversight and post-award compliance.

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News | NTIA-RUS Forum | Day 6, Session 1

WASHINGTON, March 24, 2009 – At the final day of a six-day public forum about the federal government’s $7.2 billion broadband stimulus funding on Tuesday morning, the discussion made a sharp turn toward a focus on oversight and post-award compliance.

The forums, sponsored by the Commerce Department’s National Technology and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service, addressed the parameters of the program being put in place at the two agencies because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the fiscal stimulus package.

Beth McConnell, executive director of the Media and Democracy Coalition, a coalition of public interest media advocacy groups in the states and in Washington, said there was need to “ensure grantees are accountable to the congressional intent in the Recovery Act” and that “grantees are complying with the rules and agreements.”

“To address both, we need clear and concrete objectives in grant contracts, strong rules to hold them to, and good data to evaluate,” she said. Companies should not be able to evade these conditions by selling their contracts, she said.

Additionally, said McConnell, all funded projects should contain a component that will measurably increase adoption. She also said that the NTIA and RUS “should require that all grantees report their network management practices.”

She also said both NTIA and RUS should require that grantees report the actual speeds delivered, prices paid by customers, and adoption of services.

McConnell also said that funds should not be awarded to any entity that purports to map broadband services yet withhold critical information. Instead, agencies should consider grantee reporting a critical opportunity to gather data to inform broadband data-collection and mapping, and that consideration should be given to robust post-grant assessment of the impact of projects.

Eli Noam, director, Columbia Institute for Tele-Information and professor of finance and economics at Columbia University’s business school, said the selection process must be rigorous, with classification of the applications into four baskets: rural, metropolitan, community development and innovation baskets.

“Each of these baskets will have somewhat different criteria,” said Noam. “Within each basket, projects would be graded and ranked. The rural basket should be evaluated jointly by NTIA and RUS. All baskets should be evaluated in parallel by their state Public Utility Commissions or internet boards,” he said.

Noam also called for thresholds to govern operational viability and speeds in the market, before applications could be evaluated on network efficiency and employment effect.

Selection criteria for performance, he said, “must be clear rather than fuzzy, because otherwise the monitoring will be fuzzy, and the accountability will be fuzzy.”

Transparency, independent performance evaluation and government accountability will be helpful too, he said.

Amina Fazlullah, counsel for Media and Telecommunications Reform at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, asked that oversight be tailored for each program objective, with clear deliverables for grantees set at the beginning.

All participants, she said, should participate in oversight –  not just grantees. Interventions in the event of failures should be made early.

She also called for regional, quarterly, press briefings “to give the public information on grantee programs.”

Sunne Wright McPeak, president and CEO of California Emerging Technology Fund, called for the establishment of a framework and process before awards are made. She said there should be an agreement governing deliverables and outcomes beforehand.

Baselines should be established to guide supply, redeployment, demand and adoption across states.

She said immediate outcomes should be seen in jobs created and people connected, while long-term outcomes should be seen in an increase in deployment and adoption of broadband technology.

Chris Murray, senior counsel at Consumers Union, said judgment of the oversight process should be based on how many homes are served, what speeds are used up and down, and at what cost for the consumer.

He said the NTIA must be able to provide clear answers to the questions:

  • Who is the recipient of the grant?
  • What is the purpose of the grant?
  • What is the grant spent on (including specific equipment)?
  • What is the impact?

John Bunting, a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program Audit Manager in the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General, said his office would deploy dedicated staff, initiate targeted risk-based audit and expedited reporting, participate in departmental committee and working groups, and embark on fraud awareness training as well as timely response to citizen complaints.

Members of the public in attendance expressed concern over the need for rigorous compliance, comprehensive vetting prior to and during projects, clarification of performance criteria and generosity to all applicants, and an examination of financial capability before grant awards.

There was also concern for public life, health and property; the need for independent engineers at every stage; state-based solutions to existing and emerging needs as well as the need to increase resources for deployment in some parts of the country.

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Funding

After FCC Map Release Date, NTIA Says Infrastructure Money to Be Allocated by June 2023

The NTIA urged eligible entities to submit challenges to the FCC’s broadband map by January 13, 2023.

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Photo of NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson, in January 2015 used with permission

WASHINGTON, November 10, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Thursday its intention to announce allocations from the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program by June 30, 2023.

The announcement comes on the heels of the FCC announcing Thursday that a preliminary draft of the commission’s national broadband map will be released and available for public challenge on November 18, which was required for the NTIA to begin moving the broadband infrastructure money out of the door to the states. The challenge process is the primary mechanism to correct for errors in the map’s data.

Don’t miss the discussion about “What’s the State of IIJA?” at Digital Infrastructure Investment–Washington on November 17, 2022: Nearly one year into the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, what is its state of implementation? How are state broadband offices feeling about the pace of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration? What are they doing to prepare for it? How big of a jolt to the broadband industry will the IIJA be?

“The next eight weeks are critical for our federal efforts to connect the unconnected,” said NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson. “The FCC’s upcoming challenge process is one of the best chances to ensure that we have accurate maps guiding us as we allocate major…awards in 2023. I urge every state and community that believes it can offer improvements to be part of this process so that we can deliver on the promise of affordable, reliable high-speed internet service for everyone in America.”

To ensure public input is considered in the allocation process, the NTIA urged eligible entities Thursday to submit challenges to the FCC’s national broadband map – the dataset that will shape the distribution of BEAD grants – by January 13, 2023.

To promote a robust challenge process, the NTIA said it will offer technical assistance to state governments, informational webinars to the public, and regular engagement with state officials to identify and resolve issues.

Clarification: A previous headline said the NTIA would “finalize” money by June 2023. In actuality, the NTIA will initially announce BEAD “allocations” by June 2023, then eligible entities must submit proposals to the NTIA for approval before the money is fully disbursed, which could be sometime after June 2023. 

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NTIA

Speaking at AnchorNets, NTIA’s Alan Davidson Touts Role of Anchor Institutions

‘Community-anchor institutions have been and are the connective tissue that make delivering high-speed internet access possible,’ he said.

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John Windhausen and Alan Davidson (right) at AnchorNets 2022.

CRYSTAL CITY, Va., October 14, 2022 – States will be required to work with local communities on broadband programs as unprecedented funding initiatives roll out from the federal government, said Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

“It’s critical that the states are being guided by as many local voices as possible,” said Davidson, addressing the AnchorNets 2022 conference Friday morning. The NTIA, an arm of the U.S. Commerce Department, will ensure state broadband plans are informed by community input, he added.

Davidson also emphasized the role local institutions can play in boosting connectivity and the importance of federal adoption and affordability initiatives, such as the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Project.

“Community-anchor institutions have been and are the connective tissue that make delivering high-speed internet access possible,” Davidson said.

The NTIA’s broadband policies are “about more than just a connection, more than just access,” Davidson argued. “A wire to somebody’s home… doesn’t help them if they can’t afford to get online.”

The NTIA will administer the rollout of tens of billions of dollars in broadband funding, the majority of which – $42.45 billion – is from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program. BEAD funding will be granted to each state government based on relative need, and the states will distribute sub-grants to contractors.

John Windhausen, executive director of the SHLB Coalition – the host of AnchorNets 2022 – praised Davidson’s remarks.

“Alan Davidson’s comments really recognized that the anchor institutions can play a role in several different aspects of solving the digital divide,” Windhausen told Broadband Breakfast.

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Funding

State Broadband Offices Need to Increase Their Capacity, Improve Data, and Communicate Well

NTIA’s Evan Feinman spoke about what states need to keep in mind as they prepare for BEAD funds.

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Photo of Evan Feinman from AEI

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration webinar event on Tuesday focused on the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Notice of Funding Opportunity. The webinar highlighted three important items to keep in mind as states begin to receive money for broadband planning.

The first, according to Evan Feinman, deputy associate administrator for BEAD, was for states to consider your office’s capacity. Each state will receive a minimum of $100 million. Very few states have the human resources required to adequately run a program of this magnitude, he said.

The second is to build up research and data collections of broadband coverage at a state level. The Federal Communications Commission will soon release a new mapping system. It will be necessary, said Feinman, to “engage meaningfully” with these maps using state’s own research and data. Furthermore, states should have the necessary data to engage with internet service providers and the NTIA as they determine who is served and unserved.

Third, states should develop a clear-cut plan for outreach and communication support with stakeholders. Stakeholders include telecom providers, tribal governments, local governments, and community organizations.

The planning step is a great point for stakeholders to become involved in the process, said Feinman. “There is an expectation that lives throughout this program that folks are going to engage really thoroughly and in an outgoing way with their stakeholders.”

See other articles on the NTIA webinars issues in the wake of the Notices of Funding Opportunity on the Broadband.Money community:

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