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Broadband and Economic Development: How Deep is the Alliance?

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2009 – The final session of the NTIA/RUS public forums on implementing broadband stimulus legislation focused on the role that broadband deployment can play in economic development

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News | NTIA-RUS Forums | Day 6, Sessions 3

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2009 – The final session of the NTIA/RUS public forums on implementing broadband stimulus legislation focused on the role that broadband deployment can play in economic development

Bob Atkinson of the Columbia University Institute for Tele-Information, and the moderator for most of the sessions in a marathon six days of public meetings by the Commerce and Agriculture Departments, set the session in motion by asking the panelists and public to “provide the NTIA and RUS with good ideas about how we promote community economic development through the broadband stimulus program.”

Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Agriculture’s Department’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) co-sponsored the six days’ worth of joint meetings. Of the total, four days’ sessions were held in the Commerce Department’s auditorium, and two day’s worth were held in Las Vegas and Flagstaff, Ariz.

The topic of community economic development on Tuesday brought the jobs creation provision of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) under the spotlight. It also brought out a diverse contingent of eight panelists.

The panelists were the U.S. Pan-Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, the National Rural Health Association, the National Emergency Number Association, Ronson Network Services Corp., the National Association of Development Organizations, the Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation, the Communications Workers Of America and Argent Associates.

Much of the ideas offered by the panelists were long recitations of existing programs that might be leveraged. No good cause was left unheralded.

As was evident in the prior panels, panelists and questioners made passionate pleas to use contract law and administrative rule-making procedures to further their proposed interests in the allocation process.

Given the enormity of the topic and broad constituent base of the panelists, the public and participants struggled to make sense of the implications of ubiquitous broadband for community economic development.

No one advocated the phrase “build it and they will come,” but everyone agreed that a health care, emergency services and education were essential to attracting businesses to a community. Everyone agreed that broadband was essential. In other words, building-out broadband does not create certainty, it is merely necessary to be a viable economic contender.

Individuals familiar with implementing federally community economic development said that process and political inertia would establish reporting terms whose efforts would be judged by the number of jobs created.

The panelists offered several examples of existing models that could be used to make estimates.

No one asked if measuring the number of jobs created by broadband stimulus was a good idea. No one asked if existing jobs estimating models were even relevant to the new paradigm offered by ubiquitous broadband. It was taken as a given.

Small business concerns were vocal, especially disadvantaged small businesses. Their appeals for codifying small business participation in the grant and loan process appeared to include an assumption that standard procurement practices would govern the NTIA/RUS grants.

Additionally, no one addressed the schedule impact of sorting out North American Industrial Classification Codes (NAICs) and associated size standards. No one questioned whether the 8a certification for disadvantaged small businesses imposed constraints upon an owner’s net worth that would affect the ability of such a firm to draw the required capital.

The panel and audience were uncomfortable with the tension between quick economic job creation and careful community business development, which can take years to accomplish.

Success in community development is measured on a scale of two to ten years, and not 10 months to two years. Susan Au Allen, the national president of the U.S. Pan Asian American chamber of commerce summed it up well:

“Because long-term, to achieve community economic development in many of the communities across a very diverse rural America, this is going to be a patient process, and it takes a lot of time, and as the people at USDA know, since they have an active rural development program, you know, this is not something you can achieve overnight.”

The frenzied pace of stimulus leaves many concerned that “things will happen so fast that we will be left out,” said Allen.

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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