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NTIA, RUS Going 'On Tour' – Stimulus Meeting Times and Agenda Announced

WASHINGTON, March 13, 2009 – After filling multiple overflow rooms at Tuesday’s broadband stimulus kickoff event, the Rural Utilities Services and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Friday they would hold six additional public meetings on the broadband stimulus.

Andrew Feinberg

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WASHINGTON, March 13, 2009 – After filling multiple overflow rooms at Tuesday’s broadband stimulus kickoff event, the Rural Utilities Services and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Friday they would hold six additional public meetings on the broadband stimulus.

Included in the announcement were firm dates, times and locations for the  six meetings: two in Washington, plus the satellite meetings in Las Vegas, Nev., and Flagstaff, Ariz.

The next series of meetings begins with an encore performance in Washington, D.C. on Monday, March 16,  at the Commerce Department auditorium.

The “tour” then heads west to Las Vegas, Nev., for a meeting Tuesday, March 17 at the Charleston Heights Center, 800 South Brush Street. The Wednesday, March 18 meeting will be in Flagstaff, Az., at the Northern Arizona University’s High Country Conference Center, located at 201 West Butler Avenue.

The hometown crowd in Washington will have three more chances to catch the show and make comments, with meetings planned for Thursday, March 19, and then on Monday, March 23, and Tuesday, March 24. The D.C. meetings on the 16th, 19th and 23rd will feature a speaker from a state-level utility commission.

Tentative agenda items for each meeting were also announced. The March 16 meeting, “headlined” by District of Columbia Public Services Chairman Betty Ann Kane,  will begin at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time with a one-hour roundtable and 30 minute public comment period on private sector eligibility for the NTIA and RUS grant programs.

Following a lunch break, there will be an identically structured roundtable and comment period on coordination with the USDA Grant and Loan program, followed by a session focused  on the demand side of the program –  “innovative programs to encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service and expanding public computer center capacity.”

The third topic is the focus of a combined $450 million in grant funding, with $200 million set aside for expanding public computer centers, such as schools and libraries, and another $250 million available for “innovative programs.”

The St. Patrick’s day gathering in Las Vegas and the Flagstaff encore on March 18 will follow the same roundtable and public comment format as the Monday meeting, but with different topics: (1) “reaching vulnerable populations, driving demand, and the role of strategic institutions,” (2) “definitions of ‘broadband,’ ‘underserved’ and ‘unserved,'” and (3) “selection criteria and weighing priorities.”

Both meetings will begin at 4:00 p.m. Pacific and Mountain times, respectively.

The last three Washington, DC meetings will return to the 10:00 a.m. start time and retain the one-hour roundtable, 30 minute comment time frames, but will each have distinct topic sets and featured speakers.

The March 19 meeting will feature two sessions focused on shaping definitions of “broadband” and “underserved areas,” respectively. The statutory language of the stimulus lets NTIA define those terms in consultation with the Federal Communications Commission.

The second session also will include discussion of how to best reach “vulnerable populations.” And the day will close with a roundtable and comment period on rural and unserved areas — priority targets for the $4.7 billion in grants  to be awarded by NTIA under its Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. The featured speaker will be New York State Public Service Commissioner Maureen Harrison.

Network neutrality issues could take the stage during first session of the the March 23 meeting. The day will open with a roundtable on “nondiscrimination and interconnection obligations.” While the language of the stimulus law requires “open access” on networks built with stimulus funds, the definition of open access is left to NTIA to define using the “five points” of the Federal Communications Commission’s Internet Policy Statement as a minimum standard.

The featured guest on March 19 will be National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners president Fred Butler. Butler, who sits on the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, is likely to figure prominently during the meeting’s second and third sessions, which focus on the role of the states in (1) implementing the broadband stimulus, and (2) developing a comprehensive national broadband map.

The stimulus package appropriated $350 million for “state-centered” broadband mapping pursuant to the Broadband Data Improvement Act, passed during the 110th Congress. The NARUC board of directors passed a resolution encouraging states to explore methods of broadband data collection and mapping, including public-private partnerships, during its winter 2009 meeting last month.

The final meeting on March 24  will likely appeal to the financially minded, with sessions on post-award compliance and oversight, selection criteria and weighing priorities, and community economic development.

Accountability and oversight of the grant programs could be a hot topic, as many members of House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, including subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., expressed a desire to see strict oversight of the grant programs during a March 12 hearing on Universal Service Fund reform. Boucher suggested oversight of  the grant programs might be a subject for a hearing in the near future.

Contrary to the unofficial motto of “sin city,” what happens in Vegas (or Washington, or Flagstaff) will not stay there. NTIA announced it will webcast each meeting live on its website: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/broadbandgrants. And all materials and information will be archived on the RUS site as well, at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov.

Andrew Feinberg is the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

NTIA

Senate Advances Legislation Creating Office of Internet Connectivity Within Commerce Department’s NTIA

Andrew Feinberg

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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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NTIA

Panelists on NTIA Broadband Webinar Say Smart Buildings Boost Civic Resiliency and Public Health

Adrienne Patton

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Photo of London skyline by PXhere used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 16, 2020 – Speakers advocated civic resiliency and better public health through smart building infrastructure in a webinar discussion hosted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Wednesday.

Limor Schafman, senior director of Smart Buildings Programs at the Telecommunications Industry Association, said as buildings digitize, human experience will improve.

“A smart building uses an interoperable set of technology, systems and infrastructure to optimize building performance and occupant experience,” said Schafman. Smart buildings are not just for megacities. Rather, everyone shares resiliency and wellness concerns, and smart buildings are the answer, she said.

The purpose of a broadband-focused smart building is to digitize the infrastructure while maintaining occupants’ needs at the forefront of the innovation. Smart building infrastructure includes a focus on basic infrastructure, connectivity, power and energy, data, interoperable systems, and intelligence and cognition, said Schafman.

Smart buildings function through wireless or fiber connection and streamline data sharing across departments, combating or inter-departmental stagnation.

Wireless infrastructure also solves the problem of spaghetti wiring, said Benny Lee, Councilman and Director of San Mateo County Public Wi-Fi, in Northern California.

While wired building need dozens of switches on every floor, wireless buildings only need one or two.

Most 5G deployments using higher radio frequencies pose problems because such signals cannot travel through walls, said Lee. The “FCC has been discussing adding 6 [GigaHertz] spectrum to Wi-Fi, which promises connectivity speeds upwards of 5 [Gigabits per second]s,” he said.

Jiri Skopek, of a group called 2030 District Networks, argued that smart buildings save money while improving occupants’ quality of life. Speaking of smart buildings, he said, “we expect them now to respond to our needs, and even our wishes.”

Productivity increases, he said, because users can control the environment: lighting, air quality, temperature, occupancy sensing, shade control, white noise control, etc. These factors foster health and convenience.

Because smart buildings operate through microgrids, Skopek said, they run on direct current, which can integrate renewable energy.

In the case of natural disasters or emergencies, first responders can arrive quicker and know where the exact danger area is.

Schafman said municipalities can view the status of the building’s infrastructure because it has a virtual image. The buildings can also be run remotely, added Skopek.

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NTIA

Speaking at Commerce Department Symposium, Federal Agencies Doubt Benefits of Spectrum Plan

Masha Abarinova

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Photo of NTIA event by Masha Abarinova

WASHINGTON, September 10, 2019- Federal agencies speaking at radiofrequency symposium hosted on Tuesday by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Symposium expressed doubts that any kind of a national spectrum strategy would be useful.

Addressing speculation that the Commerce Department’s NTIA might unveil such a national spectrum strategy, the officials each seemed focused on their doubts that such a strategy would be beneficial for their respective agencies.

Spectrum management needs to meet constantly changing demands, said R. J. Balanga, senior regulatory and policy adviser at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Increased spectrum usage and higher data-rate transmissions are required for human and robotic operations in space.

NASA’s main objective, he said, is to enhance interoperability by further cooperation with the commercial space industry and its international partners.

The Department of Defense occupies a great number of spectrum bands, said Colonel Frederick Williams, director of spectrum policy and programs at the Pentagon. He said spectrum has becoming increasingly congested.

Agencies must work together to combat spectrum issues, he said. The Citizens Broadband Radio Service, for instance, was established by the Federal Communications Commission as a way for shared wireless broadband use of the 3.5 GHz band.

Karen Van Dyke, principal technical adviser for Global Positioning Systems at the Department of Transportation, said that spectrum affects all modes of transportation. Therefore, it’s important that GPS are protected from harmful radio-frequency interference.

Furthermore, she said, close cooperation with private industries is required to best utilize spectrum innovation.

The government has so many layers of spectrum management that it’s difficult to determine the exact process, said Ian Atkins, director of the Federal Aviation Administration spectrum strategy and policy.

The FAA is committed to utilizing the least amount of spectrum possible, he said. However, what the agency is looking for is a return of investment to make sure that valuable spectrum programs are enacted.

With 5G approaching mass deployment, efficient spectrum management is key.

Dynamic spectrum sharing as well as extended range millimeter waves are going to dramatically increase 5G deployment, said Dean Brenner, senior vice president for spectrum strategy and technology policy at Qualcomm.

The hype surrounding the deployment of wireless 5G technology demonstrates that the public often gravitates its focus on a single set of technologies, said Christopher Szymanski, director of product marketing and government affairs at Broadcom. But there needs to be focus on the backhaul and wireless aspects of spectrum as well.

Cisco has projected increased usage of unlicensed spectrum in the coming years, said Szymanski. However, the U.S. lacks enough channels of spectrum to keep up with demand.

Hence why spectrum and infrastructure policies are necessary on both the state and federal level, said Hank Hultquist, vice president of federal regulatory for AT&T.

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