News | NTIA-RUS Forum | Day 3, Session 3
March 20, 2009 – At the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Rural Utilities Services’ Wednesday joint public meeting in Flagstaff, Ariz., tension surfaced over how much of the money for local broadband projects should come from the federal government.
The panel topic – on the “selection criteria and weighting priorities” for evaluating broadband grants – was a repeat of an identical topic at Tuesday’s meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada. The public meetings are part of six-day collection of sessions designed to solicit public input on how the Commerce Department’s NTIA and the Agriculture Department’s RUS should spend the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus.
Some on the third panel of Wednesday’s public meeting called for a simple application process. Others called for rigorous qualification criteria for grant applications, including a well-documented business plan .
The broadband stimulus legislation, which allocated $4.7 billion to the NTIA and $2.5 billion to RUS for broadband grants, generally requires applications to match federal funds with 20 percent of project funds raised by the state government, local government, or private sector. NTIA has the ability to waive that provision, though.
Tension surfaced when Seifert put the implications of accountability, innovation, and wide distribution of funds under the spotlight. Many wanted the 20 percent match provision waived as a matter of course. Some called for acceptance of “in-kind” contributions – like state deeds to the rights of way for telecommunications wires – as constituting a match .
Seifert’s pushing back in his questions may indicate that the agency is more inclined to stretch the public dollar by staying with a requirement for a cash match in most cases.
Echoing his call at the same panel in Las Vegas for carriers to put some “skin in the game,” Seifert addressed a credible proposal, and said that there would need to be a relationship between “assertions and proof.”
A better proposal would show that “people have thought this through”. He also characterized a need to create projects that support a “test-bed” model.
Seifert also pleaded for ideas that would allow NTIA to sort out a pending deluge of grant applications. He posed plausible scenarios and asked people to choose; would “this” get higher priority than “that”?
For the second time in two days, it was starkly clear that there is more of a need for broadband deployment than is available through the broadband stimulus funds.
Betty Buckley, director of the Communities Connect Network in Washington state, recalled a simple model for understanding the enormity of the “broadband problem.” She said access is required to obtain internet service, equipment, and content. She advocated demand side proliferation by increasing up-take by “statistically proven low adopters”.
Tuesday’s panel in Las Vegas on the selection criteria was weighted with “middle mile” providers; the similar panel in Flagstaff was populated by providers of emergency services and tribal interests.
By and large, the presenters in Flagstaff read from their prepared texts. By and large, the presentations came off as a recitation of past accomplishments and putting the panelists’ positions “into the record”.
Lacking was the more free-flowing public debate evident on Tuesday in Las Vegas. The Flagstaff panel’s focus was more about mentioning a wide variety of praiseworthy causes.
Right-of-way and speed-to-market issues were both discussed. The vast majority of underserved people live in sparsely populated areas. Panelists and public comments addressed how relatively simple and urgent requirements are constrained by environmental impact studies and approval by a host of U.S. federal, state, and tribal agencies.
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.
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.
NTIA Publishes Report Calling for Better Data Aggregation Methods
The report notes need for separating broadband access data from other consumer stats.
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.
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.
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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