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Coordination Between NTIA and RUS Spurs Talk of Common Broadband Application

WASHINGTON, March 17, 2009 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Rural Utilities Service should keep the application process for broadband stimulus dollars as simple as possible, a group of panelists said on Monday.

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News | NTIA-RUS Forum | Day 1, Session 2

WASHINGTON, March 17, 2009 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Rural Utilities Service should keep the application process for broadband stimulus dollars as simple as possible, a group of panelists said on Monday.

Speaking at the second panel of the March 16 public meeting, “Coordination between NTIA and RUS on Broadband Initiatives,” the message imparted was simple: coordination ought “not be buried in detail,” as expressed by J. Bradford Ramsey, general counsel of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Ramsey was one of five panelists discussing the intricacies of the way in which the Commerce Department’s NTIA’s $4.7 billion for broadband will interact with the $2.5 billion that will flow through the Agriculture Department’s RUS.

Monday marked the first day of a six-day series of joint hearings between the agencies.

The $7.2 billion total in broadband stimulus funds was allocated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which authorized $787 billion in total spending in an effort to boost the economy.

“Let us keep the application process simple,” said Ramsey. “Let us broaden our definitions of what we are doing too,” he said.

Echoing a theme also expressed by the other four panelists, he said there ought to be a common application for everyone interested in the funds, and that details of the process and outcomes be made available in a public database.

Jeff Arnold, legislative director at the National Association of Counties, warned that major challenges exist in applying for the grants at the local level.

“Let us have a standardized process and database cutting across both NTIA and RUS,” he said. He also urged a standardized application.

Derrick Owens, director of government affairs at Western Telecommunications Alliance, and a former NTIA official, also urged coordination between NTIA and RUS. But a single application procedure may not be viable because of institutional differences between the two agencies.

Additionally, RUS has the authority to stretch its $2.5 billion in funding into more resources by turning a portion of the funds into loans, instead of grants. Over the past half-decade, RUS has primarily given loans, and not grants, for broadband projects.

The differences between an application for a loan, versus an application for grant, may frustrate the quest for a common application.

Simplicity is also going to be vital to deal with an expected on-rush of applications for broadband stimulus funds.

Arnold, Owens and Mark DeFalco, a member of the board of the Appalachian Regional Commission, all surmised that the two agencies will be flooded with “thousands” of applications for the federal dollars.

“There will also be need to develop a notification system so that applicants know the status of their grant or loan applications,” said Owens, adding that the applications should processed in a “rapid and efficient manner.”

One debate among the panelists emerged over whether broadband stimulus funds should be driven primarily to expand coverage over a wider area, or to spend more to ensure higher-speed connections.

Mark Cooper, director of research at Consumer Federation of America, said there is need to establish “overreaching principles” to coordinate stimulus spending across agencies.

“Let us also set threshholds and standards to meet basic connecting needs,” said Cooper. “Let us also target maximum coverage rather than maximum functionality.”

DeFalco stressed that building “good coverage in all rural areas” should not take the place of ensuring that super-fast fiber or coaxial connections are built out more widely. Otherwise, he said, “these rural areas are again left behind.”

Arnold also warned against being satisfied with a definition of broadband speeds that were too low. “We need to be careful that we don’t design broadband needs based on residential users.”

During the question and answer session, Ramsey said that states should play a coordinating role among their own applicants on where broadband funding decisions stand.

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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