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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.

NTIA

Senate Advances Legislation Creating Office of Internet Connectivity Within Commerce Department’s NTIA

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Photo of Sen. Maria Cantwell by Lance Cheung of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2020 – The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday voted to advance a version of legislation creating a new office with the Commerce Department, and  re-authorizing the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to protect consumers from deceptive internet marketing.

One bill would establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within the National Telecommunications and Infrastructure Administration of the Commerce Department.

While senators approved both the reauthorization of the US SAFEWEB Act and the Advancing Critical Connectivity Expands Service, Small Business Resources, Opportunities, Access, and Data Based on Assessed Need and Demand Act by voice vote.

The ACCESS BROADBAND Act requires the administrator of NTIA to establish a new Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within 180 days of the bill’s enacting date, with the aim of coordinating and streamlining the process of applying for various federal broadband support programs.

However, the amended version of the bill includes language authored by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., which specifically excludes the Universal Service Fund’s programs from the office’s mandate.

The bill would also require the new office to create a single application for the various federal programs under its auspices, as well as a website which would be a one-stop shop for individuals and institutions seeking to learn more about federal programs for expanding broadband access.

In her opening remarks before the committee began consideration of the bill, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the committee’s ranking member, praised the “good bipartisan work” that went into drafting it.

“Closing the digital divide that so many communities particularly in our rural communities face is a priority for many members on this committee, and this bill is an important step in addressing that challenge,” she said.

“And I would I would say that this coronavirus is also a very strong learning lesson for us, as it relates to the gaps in broadband because you certainly need it as it relates to so many aspects of delivering on education and healthcare during this time period.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., later added that the bill, which she co-sponsored, will be helpful to Arizonans living in rural areas who may need help accessing better broadband services.

“Nearly 25 million Arizonans living in rural areas do not have access to high speed internet, so it’s crucial for Arizona that rural communities are afforded the same opportunity to stay connected as our urban areas, and the ACCESS BROADBAND Act moves us in the right direction,” she said. “It’s an essential step to help us close the digital divide and ensure everyone in my state and across our country can access quality, high speed internet and the opportunities that come with it.”

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NTIA

Panelists on NTIA Broadband Webinar Say Smart Buildings Boost Civic Resiliency and Public Health

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Photo of London skyline by PXhere used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 16, 2020 – Speakers advocated civic resiliency and better public health through smart building infrastructure in a webinar discussion hosted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Wednesday.

Limor Schafman, senior director of Smart Buildings Programs at the Telecommunications Industry Association, said as buildings digitize, human experience will improve.

“A smart building uses an interoperable set of technology, systems and infrastructure to optimize building performance and occupant experience,” said Schafman. Smart buildings are not just for megacities. Rather, everyone shares resiliency and wellness concerns, and smart buildings are the answer, she said.

The purpose of a broadband-focused smart building is to digitize the infrastructure while maintaining occupants’ needs at the forefront of the innovation. Smart building infrastructure includes a focus on basic infrastructure, connectivity, power and energy, data, interoperable systems, and intelligence and cognition, said Schafman.

Smart buildings function through wireless or fiber connection and streamline data sharing across departments, combating or inter-departmental stagnation.

Wireless infrastructure also solves the problem of spaghetti wiring, said Benny Lee, Councilman and Director of San Mateo County Public Wi-Fi, in Northern California.

While wired building need dozens of switches on every floor, wireless buildings only need one or two.

Most 5G deployments using higher radio frequencies pose problems because such signals cannot travel through walls, said Lee. The “FCC has been discussing adding 6 [GigaHertz] spectrum to Wi-Fi, which promises connectivity speeds upwards of 5 [Gigabits per second]s,” he said.

Jiri Skopek, of a group called 2030 District Networks, argued that smart buildings save money while improving occupants’ quality of life. Speaking of smart buildings, he said, “we expect them now to respond to our needs, and even our wishes.”

Productivity increases, he said, because users can control the environment: lighting, air quality, temperature, occupancy sensing, shade control, white noise control, etc. These factors foster health and convenience.

Because smart buildings operate through microgrids, Skopek said, they run on direct current, which can integrate renewable energy.

In the case of natural disasters or emergencies, first responders can arrive quicker and know where the exact danger area is.

Schafman said municipalities can view the status of the building’s infrastructure because it has a virtual image. The buildings can also be run remotely, added Skopek.

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NTIA

Speaking at Commerce Department Symposium, Federal Agencies Doubt Benefits of Spectrum Plan

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Photo of NTIA event by Masha Abarinova

WASHINGTON, September 10, 2019- Federal agencies speaking at radiofrequency symposium hosted on Tuesday by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Symposium expressed doubts that any kind of a national spectrum strategy would be useful.

Addressing speculation that the Commerce Department’s NTIA might unveil such a national spectrum strategy, the officials each seemed focused on their doubts that such a strategy would be beneficial for their respective agencies.

Spectrum management needs to meet constantly changing demands, said R. J. Balanga, senior regulatory and policy adviser at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Increased spectrum usage and higher data-rate transmissions are required for human and robotic operations in space.

NASA’s main objective, he said, is to enhance interoperability by further cooperation with the commercial space industry and its international partners.

The Department of Defense occupies a great number of spectrum bands, said Colonel Frederick Williams, director of spectrum policy and programs at the Pentagon. He said spectrum has becoming increasingly congested.

Agencies must work together to combat spectrum issues, he said. The Citizens Broadband Radio Service, for instance, was established by the Federal Communications Commission as a way for shared wireless broadband use of the 3.5 GHz band.

Karen Van Dyke, principal technical adviser for Global Positioning Systems at the Department of Transportation, said that spectrum affects all modes of transportation. Therefore, it’s important that GPS are protected from harmful radio-frequency interference.

Furthermore, she said, close cooperation with private industries is required to best utilize spectrum innovation.

The government has so many layers of spectrum management that it’s difficult to determine the exact process, said Ian Atkins, director of the Federal Aviation Administration spectrum strategy and policy.

The FAA is committed to utilizing the least amount of spectrum possible, he said. However, what the agency is looking for is a return of investment to make sure that valuable spectrum programs are enacted.

With 5G approaching mass deployment, efficient spectrum management is key.

Dynamic spectrum sharing as well as extended range millimeter waves are going to dramatically increase 5G deployment, said Dean Brenner, senior vice president for spectrum strategy and technology policy at Qualcomm.

The hype surrounding the deployment of wireless 5G technology demonstrates that the public often gravitates its focus on a single set of technologies, said Christopher Szymanski, director of product marketing and government affairs at Broadcom. But there needs to be focus on the backhaul and wireless aspects of spectrum as well.

Cisco has projected increased usage of unlicensed spectrum in the coming years, said Szymanski. However, the U.S. lacks enough channels of spectrum to keep up with demand.

Hence why spectrum and infrastructure policies are necessary on both the state and federal level, said Hank Hultquist, vice president of federal regulatory for AT&T.

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