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At Monday's NTIA/RUS Open Meeting, A Debate About Eligibility for Funds

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2009 – The detailed-oriented open meetings to consider the structure for deploying the federal government’s $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funds began on Monday morning with five presentations about which sorts of private-sector entities should be eligible for the grants.

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

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2009 – The detail-oriented open meetings to consider the structure for deploying the federal government’s $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funds began on Monday morning with five presentations about which sorts of private-sector entities should be eligible for the grants.

Speaking at the Commerce Department’s auditorium in a joint meeting of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service, representatives of the technology industry urged the most liberal interpretation of the federal stimulus legislation’s provisions that successful applicants be deemed to be in the “public interest.”

“We think that the congressional intent is not to preclude anyone from applying,” said Grant Seiffert, president of the Telecommunications Industry Association. “I don’t think that Congress wanted to exclude anyone.”

Taking the strictest view of eligibility was Debbie Goldman, telecommunications policy director of the Communications Workers of America. Goldman said that applicants should have “the endorsement of a state or political subdivision”; shall demonstrate financial, technical, managerial and operational qualification; and that the application will “result in sustainable and quality job creation and economic development.”

Somewhere in between those poles were the positions taken by the telecommunications carriers, the states, and a spokesman for a non-profit group.

“The goals of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) will be furthered if any provider of broadband service and infrastructure is eligible for a grant,” said Curt Stamp, president of the Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance, but speaking for a wide variety of carrier groups.

Stamp said that providers should be eligible to apply for a grant if they have either “an FCC license, a state certificate of public convenience and necessity, a cable franchise, or similar government authorization, or otherwise provides broadband services under applicable federal, state and local laws.”

Such a standard would allow incumbent carriers to be eligible – but most pose a barrier to entry for new entrants. Under audience questioning, he said that companies without such certfication would be able to get funding, but should be scrutinized more strictly by the NTIA.

Different standards were articulated by Sasha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Initiative of the New America Foundation, and Betty Ann Kane, chairwoman of the D.C. public service commission.

Meinrath said: “diversity and heterogeneity of business models is critically important to ensure universal, affordable broadband access.” He said that there is a divide between the dynamics of selecting on-the-ground entities that could build out broadband, and crafting a strict “public interest” rule that could end up excluding needed players.

Meinrath was critical of Goldman’s standard, saying that “predatory pricing and redlining were happening in many portions of the country,” and that new players were needed to shake up the mix of broadband providers.

Betty Ann Kane, speaking on behalf of the National Association of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners, said that the eligibility standard was met by “an entity is applying to serve otherwise unserved citizens (where unserved means no facilities-based internet access other than dial-up or satellite-based access) or the entity’s offering would improve the quality or affordability of broadband in an area.”

She also said that it should be clear that state entities should apply for the grants.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

Funding

Senate Confirms Davidson as National Telecommunications and Information Administration Chief

Bipartisan vote confirms Davidson atop the Commerce Department agency. It has a large pile of money to spend on broadband.

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Newly-confirmed head of the NTIA Alan Davidson

WASHINGTON, January 11, 2022 ­– In a bipartisan vote of 60-31, the Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the National Telecommunications and Information Administration: Alan Davidson.

Davidson, a former public policy director at Google, will become the first Senate-confirmed head of the NTIA since mid-2019.

Several members of Republican leadership voted against Davidson’s nomination Tuesday afternoon, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Whip John Thune, R-S.D., as did Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who had both been recorded as opposed to advancing Davidson’s nomination out of committee.

As the new head of the agency tasked with advising the president on telecommunications and information policy issues, Davidson will be responsible for overseeing the distribution of billions of dollars in broadband funding across the nation made available by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

On Friday, the agency released its request for public comment on the act.

Early reactions from industry groups to Davidson’s confirmation were positive, with the NCTA, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions and Public Knowledge all praising the Senate’s approval.

In light of the funding the NTIA must help distribute, organizations emphasized the magnitude of Davidson’s confirmation, with ATIS saying the agency’s mission has “never been more important” and Public Knowledge called the NTIA’s role as a “critical position at an important time.”

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel also praised the vote, saying that in working with Davidson’s NTIA she is confident that the FCC “can make progress on delivering innovative, modern communications that reach everyone, everywhere.”

Public Knowledge also said in their statement that Davidson’s work on funding alone will not close the digital divide without a fully appointed FCC.

They advocated for the confirmation to the FCC of their organization’s co-founder and former CEO Gigi Sohn– whose nomination has recently stalled in the Senate and would break the 2-2 partisan deadlock at the agency upon confirmation.

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NTIA

NTIA Publishes Report Calling for Better Data Aggregation Methods

The report notes need for separating broadband access data from other consumer stats.

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Acting NTIA Administrator Evelyn Remaley

WASHINGTON, December 29, 2021 – Year-end analysis by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration found that the agency is constrained in its data collection abilities by a lack of software that can separate broadband access data from other consumer statistics.

In its Access Broadband Report, released last Thursday, the agency proposed promoting consistent standards for data reporting that can separate this data from confounding variables and increasing data reporting requirements for entities it interacts with.

Additionally, significant lag times between broadband projects and intended outcomes was identified as an obstacle to the agency’s work, the report said.

The inaugural report, a produce of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, looks at agency accomplishments this year as well as investments in both federal broadband support programs and Universal Service Fund programs.

Specifically, the report focused on highlighting the achievements of the NTIA’s newly established Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth.

The report is consistent with ongoing NTIA efforts to improve broadband data availability, increase coordination between federal partners and be transparent about government spending.

Additionally, “the report summarizes the federal broadband investment landscape, details the current state of measuring investments and connection across federal broadband support and USF programs, and provides key recommendations to improve efforts to track broadband spending and outcomes,” including leveraging open data initiatives and identifying data sources and alternatives.

The NTIA is in the process of reviewing applications and making awards for three programs established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act: the Broadband Infrastructure Program focusing on rural connectivity, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.

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FCC

Eighty Civil Society Groups Ask for Swift Confirmation of FCC, NTIA Nominees

The groups sent a letter emphasizing the need for internet access expansion ahead of Wednesday confirmation hearings.

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Photo of Alan Davidson from New America

WASHINGTON, November 16, 2021 – Eighty civil-society groups have penned a letter to Senate leadership requesting a swift confirmation process for President Joe Biden’s nominees to the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Groups representing interests spanning civil rights, media justice, community media, workers’ rights and consumer advocacy highlighted to Senate leadership the need for the agencies to shepherd internet access expansion on the heels of newly signed bipartisan infrastructure legislation.

Biden last month nominated Jessica Rosenworcel as chairwoman and Gigi Sohn as a commissioner of the FCC, as well as Alan Davidson for director of the NTIA. Rosenworcel and Sohn’s confirmations would make a full slate of commissioners at the FCC, ending the potential for 2-2 deadlocks.

Key Senate Republicans have since expressed concern over the nomination of Sohn, citing her liberal views on communications policy.

Signees of the letter emphasized that an ongoing global pandemic and “worsening climate crisis” raise the stakes for FCC and NTIA action, and that connectivity access issues are even further exacerbated among poor families and people of color.

Organizations on the letter included the American Library Association, Color of Change, the Communications Workers of America, Greenpeace USA and the Mozilla Foundation, among others.

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Rosenworcel on Wednesday.

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