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NTIA, Agriculture and FCC Officials Detail Broadband Stimulus Funding Programs

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2009 – President Obama’s commitment to using federal funds for improving broadband deployment inched closer to reality Tuesday as the federal agencies responsible for implementing stimulus funding urged creativity and speed in submitting applications for grants.

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WASHINGTON, March 11, 2009 – President Obama’s commitment to using federal funds for improving broadband deployment inched closer to reality Tuesday as the federal agencies responsible for implementing stimulus funding urged creativity and speed in submitting applications for grants.

Speaking before a packed auditorium at the Commerce Department, agency Acting Chief of Staff Rick Wade, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and acting Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Copps provided a high-level overview of Obama’s commitment to broadband, and to the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funds.

The real action on Tuesday, however, came as four day-to-day officials at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Rural Utilities Service and the FCC answered dozens of questions from among the hundreds of lobbyists, consultants, advocates and broadband users seeking to understand the grant-making process.

They attended in person, through a teleconference, or through a webcast of the session.

Speaking to this crowd, NTIA Associate Administrator Bernadette McGuire-Rivera said, “I see a lot of familiar faces, and I know that each of you, in your own way, would like to see more and better broadband.”

“It is going to happen very fast,” said McGuire-Rivera, a senior career official at NTIA, and the head of the Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications. “Everyone needs to work together.”

She was referring not only to the fact that the NTIA must coordinate its broadband stimulus activities with the Agriculture Department and with the FCC, but that broadband bidders should seek to pool their applications for the sake of administrative convenience.

Under the broadband provisions of the fiscal stimulus measure, signed into law on February 17, NTIA will hand out $4.7 billion, with at least $2.5 billion to be disbursed by the Rural Utilities Service of the Agriculture Department. The FCC will craft the national broadband strategy required under the law.

NTIA Rule-Making Process

Together with NTIA Senior Advisor Mark Seifert, who has been tapped to head up administration of the agency’s broadband stimulus program, McGuire-Rivera walked through the 12-page notice of rule-making. Seifert is a former FCC official and Democratic staffer to the House Energy and Commerce Commission

Under the broadband stimulus law, up to $350 million may be spend on creation a national broadband map, at least $250 million must be spend on programs that encourage “sustainable adoption of broadband,” and at least $200 million must be spend on grants for public computer centers.

The documents covers a lot of ground on each of these programs, from the purposes of the grant program to the role of the states, eligibility requirements, mechanics, definitions, financial contributions, and details about particular program areas.

Released late Monday, and scheduled for official publication in the federal Register, the notice of rule-making also outlines six additional public meetings: on March 16, 19, 23 and 24, with field hearings to be held in other locations on March 17 and 18.

At the meeting, the NTIA announced that the March 17 meeting will be held in Las Vegas, and the March 18 meeting will be held in Flagstaff, Ariz.

NTIA officials said Tuesday that these six public meetings – the themes of which will be announced this week – are to take the place of private, ex parte meetings.

A February 24 Federal Register notice said that the NTIA would hold private meetings. But the agency was quickly swamped with requests.

“We had over 2,000 people [seeking] meeting requests,” said Seifert, who joked that it would take until 2012 just to hold those meetings. “We have moved to this process, to get folks to come to consensus.”

“The time pressure is such that we really have to move quickly, and we have to get best ideas,” he said.

Seifert and McGuire-Rivera outlined two statutory deadlines: all money must be spent by Commerce and Agriculture by September 30, 2010. Secondly, grant awarded must be “substantially compete” within two years.

Banking on Broadband

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack kicked off the speeches. He said, “This an important day for rural America. We are here today to begin the process of a dialogue and how best to invest in America’s future.”

He apologized for having to leave the meeting after his speech, and said, referring to broadband, “This is a very important technology that every American needs to have access to.”

Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps said that the United State now ranked 17th in global broadband penetration, as measured by the International Telecommunications Union. “Too few consumers and small businesses in this country have the high-speed broadband they need,” he said. “We pay too much for service that is too slow.”

“Now, thanks to the vision of the president and the foresight of Congress, we are doing something about it,” Copps continued. “The years of broadband drift and growing digital divides are coming to an end. We begin to understand how key broadband infrastructure is to the future of each and every one of us.”

Rick Wade, Commerce Department senior advisor and acting chief of staff – and currently the highest-ranking official at the department – provided an overview of the importance of broadband to President Obama.

“Both Commerce and USDA’s broadband programs represent a critical component of the administration’s broader economic recovery program,” said Wade. These investment must connect to other stimulus spending – including investment in transportation infrastructure, a “smart grid,” and health information technology.

“Whenever the president addresses the path toward our economic recovery, he never fails to mention the importance of broadband infrastructure access, and there is a reason,” said Wade, referring to the benefits that broadband can provide to farmers, public safety officials, health care, and others.

Question and Answer Session

The question-and-answer session, which took up more than half of the 90 minutes allocated to the public meeting, producing an outpouring of questions, and some answers from Seifert, McGuire-Rivera, David Villano, Assistant Administrator for Telecommunications Programs, USDA Rural Development, and Scott Deutschman, Acting Senior Legal Advisor to Copps.

Applications for grants may apply for either or both the RUS and the NTIA grants – provided that, if an applicant were awarded grants from both entities, the funds from the separate agencies may not be used for the same project said McGuire-Rivera.

Each agency will dole out its respective funds through three separate window of time.

NTIA will issue its first “notice of funds availability” in the April to June of 2009 time frame, said McGuire-Rivera. The second round would be between October and December 2009, and the third round between April and June 2010. Applicants that are declined in the first round may resubmit their applications in the second and third rounds, she said.

Unlike the Technologies Opportunities Program a previous grant program administered by the NTIA, the broadband grants will not be channeled through a state funding mechanism.

Instead, grant applications – including consortia of applications – are “all going to be competitive grants, with published selection and evaluation criteria,” she said. Additionally, the law requires that, to receive funding, it must e the case that the project would not have been implemented but for the grant.

Among the criteria to be evaluated by the NTIA, she said:

  • There must be at least one grant in each state.
  • Will it increase affordability, and subscribership, of broadband?
  • Will it provide the greatest broadband speed to most users?
  • Will it provide benefits for health care, for education and for children?
  • Whether or not the applicant is a socially and economically disadvantaged small business.

Rural Utilities Service Rules

RUS has not determined  its first “notice of funds availability” window, said Villano, but it would likely be within 60-90 days. “We want to get the next one out as soon as we can,” said Villano, adding that he expected the window to be between three and four months each.

In some ways, RUS may have a head start on NTIA, because the RUS has an established procedure for making broadband loans, pursuant to the farm bill of 2002.

Unlike the farm bill, the $2.5 billion allocated to the RUS by the broadband stimulus legislation may be used for grants, too. But the agency has the discretion to leverage grant money into a larger pool of funds available for loans, and RUS may do that, said Villano.

Still, 75 percent of the funds disbursed by the RUS must be within rural areas that do not have sufficient access to broadband.

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Funding

State Broadband Offices Need to Increase Their Capacity, Improve Data, and Communicate Well

NTIA’s Evan Feinman spoke about what states need to keep in mind as they prepare for BEAD funds.

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Photo of Evan Feinman from AEI

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration webinar event on Tuesday focused on the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Notice of Funding Opportunity. The webinar highlighted three important items to keep in mind as states begin to receive money for broadband planning.

The first, according to Evan Feinman, deputy associate administrator for BEAD, was for states to consider your office’s capacity. Each state will receive a minimum of $100 million. Very few states have the human resources required to adequately run a program of this magnitude, he said.

The second is to build up research and data collections of broadband coverage at a state level. The Federal Communications Commission will soon release a new mapping system. It will be necessary, said Feinman, to “engage meaningfully” with these maps using state’s own research and data. Furthermore, states should have the necessary data to engage with internet service providers and the NTIA as they determine who is served and unserved.

Third, states should develop a clear-cut plan for outreach and communication support with stakeholders. Stakeholders include telecom providers, tribal governments, local governments, and community organizations.

The planning step is a great point for stakeholders to become involved in the process, said Feinman. “There is an expectation that lives throughout this program that folks are going to engage really thoroughly and in an outgoing way with their stakeholders.”

See other articles on the NTIA webinars issues in the wake of the Notices of Funding Opportunity on the Broadband.Money community:

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FCC

Treasury Department Joins FCC, USDA and NTIA in Collaborating on Broadband Funding

Agency leaders sign pact to formalize information-sharing on broadband deployment projects.

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Photo of Janet Yellen from January 2018 by the European Central Bank

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2022—Just in advance of the deadline for the release of the funding requirements under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs act, the four principal federal agencies responsible for broadband funding released an interagency agreement to share information about and collaborate regarding the collection and reporting of certain data and metrics relating to broadband deployment.

The agencies are the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The Memorandum of Understanding is the latest development in federal efforts to coordinate high-speed internet spending, and the Treasury Department is the new addition to agreement.

The other three agencies signed a prior memorandum in June 2021 to coordinate the distribution of federal high-speed internet funds. That June 2021 Memorandum of Understanding remains in effect.

The respective Cabinet and Agency leaders announced that their agencies will consult with one another and share information on data collected from programs administered by the FCC, the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, programs administered or coordinated by NTIA, and Treasury’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund and State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

“No matter who you are or where you live in this country, you need access to high-speed internet to have a fair shot at 21st century success. The FCC, NTIA, USDA and Treasury are working together like never before to meet this shared goal,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Our new interagency agreement will allow us to collaborate more efficiently and deepen our current data sharing relationships[and] get everyone, everywhere connected to the high-speed internet they need.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “When we invest in rural infrastructure, we invest in the livelihoods and health of people in rural America. High-speed internet is the new electricity.  It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, to have access to health care and to stay connected.”

“USDA remains committed to being a strong partner with rural communities and our state, Tribal and federal partners in building ‘future-proof’ broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage across the country.”

“Our whole-of-government effort to expand broadband adoption must be coordinated and efficient if we are going to achieve our mission,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and head of the NTIA, the agency responsible for administering the vast bulk of the broadband funding.

“This MOU will allow us to build the tools we need for even better data-sharing and transparency in the future,” he said.

“Treasury is proud to work with our federal agency partners to achieve President Biden’s goal of closing the nation’s digital divide,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen.  “Access to affordable, high-speed internet is critical to the continued strength of our economy and a necessity for every American household, school, and business.”

As part of the signed agreement, each federal agency partner will share information about projects that have received or will receive funding from the previously mentioned federal funding sources.  More information on what the interagency Memorandum of Understanding entails can be found on the FCC’s website.  The agreement is effective at the date of its signing, May 11, 2022.

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FCC

FCC and NTIA Chiefs Name Jessica Quinley, Douglas Brake and Timothy May to Advisory Committees

NTIA representatives to join FCC technology and security committees, FCC rep on spectrum committee

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Photo of Doug Brake from Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2022—Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Assistant Secretary of Commerce Alan Davidson on Friday named staff representatives to participate on each other’s advisory committees. The effort is a component of the Spectrum Coordination Initiative of the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department.

As part of the initiative, the agencies are working with each other and the private sector.

“To succeed as spectrum partners, the FCC and NTIA must hear from and listen to each other in both formal and informal ways,” said Rosenworcel.

“A common understanding of spectrum engineering and market conditions is essential for the success of our efforts at the FCC and NTIA to manage the country’s spectrum resources,” said Davidson.

Rosenworcel named Jessica Quinley of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau to participate as an observer in NTIA’s Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee. Quinley currently serves as an Acting Legal Advisor in the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. She was an attorney at NTIA for more than four years.

Davidson named Douglas Brake, a Spectrum Policy Specialist, and Timothy May, a Senior Advisor, to participate in the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council and its Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council, respectively.

Brake, a Spectrum Policy Specialist with NTIA, previously directed the broadband and spectrum policy work at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.  May currently serves as a Senior Advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary where he has worked for four years.  Before joining NTIA, he was a Policy Analyst in the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.

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