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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.

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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FCC

Treasury Department Joins FCC, USDA and NTIA in Collaborating on Broadband Funding

Agency leaders sign pact to formalize information-sharing on broadband deployment projects.

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Photo of Janet Yellen from January 2018 by the European Central Bank

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2022—Just in advance of the deadline for the release of the funding requirements under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs act, the four principal federal agencies responsible for broadband funding released an interagency agreement to share information about and collaborate regarding the collection and reporting of certain data and metrics relating to broadband deployment.

The agencies are the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The Memorandum of Understanding is the latest development in federal efforts to coordinate high-speed internet spending, and the Treasury Department is the new addition to agreement.

The other three agencies signed a prior memorandum in June 2021 to coordinate the distribution of federal high-speed internet funds. That June 2021 Memorandum of Understanding remains in effect.

The respective Cabinet and Agency leaders announced that their agencies will consult with one another and share information on data collected from programs administered by the FCC, the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, programs administered or coordinated by NTIA, and Treasury’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund and State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

“No matter who you are or where you live in this country, you need access to high-speed internet to have a fair shot at 21st century success. The FCC, NTIA, USDA and Treasury are working together like never before to meet this shared goal,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Our new interagency agreement will allow us to collaborate more efficiently and deepen our current data sharing relationships[and] get everyone, everywhere connected to the high-speed internet they need.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “When we invest in rural infrastructure, we invest in the livelihoods and health of people in rural America. High-speed internet is the new electricity.  It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, to have access to health care and to stay connected.”

“USDA remains committed to being a strong partner with rural communities and our state, Tribal and federal partners in building ‘future-proof’ broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage across the country.”

“Our whole-of-government effort to expand broadband adoption must be coordinated and efficient if we are going to achieve our mission,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and head of the NTIA, the agency responsible for administering the vast bulk of the broadband funding.

“This MOU will allow us to build the tools we need for even better data-sharing and transparency in the future,” he said.

“Treasury is proud to work with our federal agency partners to achieve President Biden’s goal of closing the nation’s digital divide,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen.  “Access to affordable, high-speed internet is critical to the continued strength of our economy and a necessity for every American household, school, and business.”

As part of the signed agreement, each federal agency partner will share information about projects that have received or will receive funding from the previously mentioned federal funding sources.  More information on what the interagency Memorandum of Understanding entails can be found on the FCC’s website.  The agreement is effective at the date of its signing, May 11, 2022.

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FCC

FCC and NTIA Chiefs Name Jessica Quinley, Douglas Brake and Timothy May to Advisory Committees

NTIA representatives to join FCC technology and security committees, FCC rep on spectrum committee

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Photo of Doug Brake from Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2022—Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Assistant Secretary of Commerce Alan Davidson on Friday named staff representatives to participate on each other’s advisory committees. The effort is a component of the Spectrum Coordination Initiative of the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department.

As part of the initiative, the agencies are working with each other and the private sector.

“To succeed as spectrum partners, the FCC and NTIA must hear from and listen to each other in both formal and informal ways,” said Rosenworcel.

“A common understanding of spectrum engineering and market conditions is essential for the success of our efforts at the FCC and NTIA to manage the country’s spectrum resources,” said Davidson.

Rosenworcel named Jessica Quinley of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau to participate as an observer in NTIA’s Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee. Quinley currently serves as an Acting Legal Advisor in the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. She was an attorney at NTIA for more than four years.

Davidson named Douglas Brake, a Spectrum Policy Specialist, and Timothy May, a Senior Advisor, to participate in the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council and its Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council, respectively.

Brake, a Spectrum Policy Specialist with NTIA, previously directed the broadband and spectrum policy work at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.  May currently serves as a Senior Advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary where he has worked for four years.  Before joining NTIA, he was a Policy Analyst in the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.

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