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In Arizona, Urging Broadband Stimulus Spending For the Benefit of All

March 19, 2009 – Arizonans and native Americans at a public forum in Flagstaff, Ariz., urged a broadband buildout that puts connectivity of disadvantaged groups at the heart of the federal stimulus spending.

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News | NTIA-RUS Forum | Day 3, Session 1

March 19, 2009 – Arizonans and native Americans at a public forum in Flagstaff, Ariz., urged a broadband buildout that puts connectivity of disadvantaged groups at the heart of the federal stimulus spending.

The discussion was the first of three panels on Wednesday’s field hearing of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service.

On Thursday, the fourth of six days of NTIA/RUS public hearings on how to spend $7.2 billion in the federal broadband stimulus, heads back to Washington. The forums will continue in Washington on Monday and Tuesday.

As with Tuesday’s field hearing in Las Vegas, the digital divide between America’s wealthy bicoastal techorati was contrasted with the wide open, and often offline, regions of the American west.

The first of three panel discussions during the joint meeting of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service Wednesday focused on the state of “vulnerable populations” within the United States, the need to drive demand for broadband, and the role of strategic institutions.

Sara Pressler, mayor of Flagstaff, said the unserved and underserved peoples of Arizona still need broadband for health, education and other pressing needs.

“Serving and protecting vulnerable populations is important. Rural and tribal communities without either broadband or electric power need to benefit, too,” she said.

She continued: “Rural communities have great potential because we know what it means to work with limited resources and to get things done.”

Broadband development, she said, would be vital not just for neglected tribes and lands but wider America’s “national health and security.”

As with renewable energy, broadband could go a long way in transforming the lives of individuals in congressional districts that still do not have power.

Fred Estrella, chief information officer at the Northern Arizona University, said broadband technology would help rural and tribal communities “access educational resources and opportunities.”

“Tribal and rural communities in unserved and under-served areas could benefit from our university’s online offerings and utilize the opportunity to educate themselves and their children in ways that are not available today,” he said.

Maureen Jackson, information technology director with Coconino County, Ariz., said there exist 18,000 miles of land in the state that need broadband technology, particularly for “emergency responders.”

“We still don’t have infrastructure to meet the needs of emergency responders,” she said, adding that such infrastructure would need to be located both centrally as well as within surrounding communities.

Loris Taylor, executive director of Native Public Media, said broadband will be needed for the inclusion of neglected tribes and rural areas into the media economy, and other services.

“We need broadband so as to stream content, and foster political and electoral participation,” she said, before asking: “Whose democracy is it when so many voices are left out?”

Indian tribes, she said, have both been unserved and underserved, even as she said their socio-economic and political potential would be unlocked by broadband to their benefit.

Internet education and other services from broadband would be a boon, she said, but warned that such must be accompanied by neutrality of source and destination.

Gary Uhles, assistant general manager, San Carlos Apache Telecommunication Utility, said his company wants to reach Arizona’s outlying communities.

“We want to expand beyond boundaries of known tribal reservations,” he said.

Carroll Onsae, general manager of Hopi Telecommunications, said there will be need to replace copper wires with fiber optic wires to expand the speed and capabilities of broadband.

She said the new infrastructure will require massive capitalization, and that with increased knowledge of technology on the part of the population there would be increased demand for related services.

“Fiber optics is obviously the way to go; no doubt it would cost everyone more,” he said.

Rosalyn Boxer, director of workforce policy with Arizona’s Department of Commerce Economic Development, argued that “without broadband, businesses will lose their market share.”

“Businesses in rural areas need to know how broadband can drive demand, that we can telecommute, and so much more,” she said, adding that rural and immigrant communities would need greater confidence in using the new technology.

During the public comment session, the panelists argued that tribal and rural areas need to “grow their own broadband.” Many also decried what they considered the practice of “red-lining,” or limiting the build-out of telecommunications infrastructures to wealthier areas.

A member of the audience expressed worry that public libraries, in most instances the only reliable source of internet access, are under the threat of increased cuts in their budgets.

Yet another audience member said that scarce resources, the definition of “unserved” and “under-served,” preferential treatment towards current and former borrowers could negatively impact the NTIA/RUS application process.

Others said draft guidelines are needed for writing broadband grant application proposals, and that citizens must agree on priorities so to blunt the influence of “special interests.”

Taylor counseled that traditional areas of disagreement ought not be allowed to interfere with making progress on broadband deployment. Concepts and passions should triumph over divisive territorial agendas, she said.

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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Funding

National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Minority Community Grant Applications

The more detail, the better, NTIA officials said of program.

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Scott Woods, senior broadband program specialist and team lead for NTIA's Connecting Minority Communities, speaking at Broadband Communities in Houston

WASHINGTON, October 24, 2021–Lack of eligibility or proper planning or documentation errors are frequent grounds for disqualification of applicants for the United States’ Commerce Department’s Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program, agency officials said Wednesday and Thursday.

Speaking at webinars for individuals considering applying for the grants – which are being made by the National Telecommunications and Information Association of the Commerce Department – officials shared the most commons mistakes made by applicants when applying for the grants.

Among the officials speaking during the two presentations were Scott Woods, senior broadband program specialist and team lead for the Connecting Minority Communities program, Management and Program Analyst Pandora Beasley-Timpson, Broadband Program Specialist Janice Wilkins, Telecommunications Policy Analyst Francine Alkisswani, and Broadband Program Specialists Cameron Lewis and Kevin Hughes.

Among the biggest mistakes is eligibility. “Only historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, or minority serving institutions can apply,” said NTIA’s Michelle Morton.

Making a Successful Application

Morton and other leaders of the program also shared traits of a successful grant application.

“Good applicants provide a business and execution plan,” they said. “[Applicants] should demonstrate there is a core staff that is dedicated to the proposed project and knowledgeable about the process, as well as an editor, preferably one not connected to the project, to encourage non-biased review of the grant to see how it reads.”

Project Implementation and Evaluation

When describing their project implementation and planning process, applicants should have a clear project narrative that “identifies specific tasks, measurable milestones, and performance outcomes resulting from the proposed project activity,” the officials said.

Importantly, the NTIA stressed that all applicants must comply with Commerce Department regulations for the protection of human subjects during all research conducted or supported with grant funds.

This is important because the NTIA is required to determine whether or not a project’s evaluation plan “meets the definition of human subject research.” Thus, no work can be taken for research involving human subject until a federal grants officer approves of the research.

Consortiums

NTIA leaders also addressed questions about consortium-based applicants. “The lead application is the entity entering into the grant agreement with the NTIA and assumes primary operational and financial responsibility for the project.”

A consortium allows Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities and minority-serving institutions to partner with local governments on their application. Each consortium partner must provide a letter of a commitment to the project, including the detailed role of each member of the project and the specific commitment of each member of the project.

Finances and Budgeting

Applicants are also required to include financial documentation that details how the funds will be used and how the funding plans to meet the projects’ intended goals.

Additionally, applicants’ budget narrative should serve to explain how the costs were estimated and justify how the budget items are necessary to implement project goals and objectives and accomplished applicant’s proposed outcomes.

“We encourage out of the box thinking with regard to applicants putting together their projects,” said Hughes.

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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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