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Panelists at Las Vegas Broadband Forum Seek Local 'Skin in the Game'

March 19, 2009 – A leading official at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration pled with panelists in Las Vegas as he urged them to provide constructive selection criteria for the agency’s evaluation of broadband grant applicants.

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News | NTIA-RUS Forum | Day 2, Session 3

March 19, 2009 – A leading official at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration pled with panelists in Las Vegas as he urged them to provide constructive selection criteria for the agency’s evaluation of broadband grant applicants.

Speaking at the Charleston Heights Arts Center on the May 17 public meeting on broadband grants – the second of six days of such meetings – Mark Seifert, senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Commerce made sincere and passionate pleas for ideas that would allow NTIA to sort out a pending deluge of grant applications.

In his role as panel moderator of the “Selection Criteria” panel on Tuesday, he compelled the panel and audience to engage.

”You tell us how we should judge all these applications,” he said, nothing that was “one of the most important panels we’ll have [and] the most difficult because we have so many different things that we have to try and figure and achieve.”

For example, he asked: “How would you in a competitive way rank proposals one over the other to decide how we should spend the money?”

As with the Monday meeting in Washington, the Tuesday public meeting in Las Vegas was conducted jointly with the NTIA and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service. It was also webcast on the Internet, with as much as 143 viewers registering on the system’s counting mechanism.

The panelist represented four so-called “middle mile” service providers and a representative of the Nevada System of Higher Education. Middle mile providers provide high-speed internet connections between residential neighborhoods and the high-capacity fiber backbones that traverse the county and the world.

”When we originally put this panel together, I thought we were going to have a much more diverse kind of background,” Seifert said, “which underscores the difficult task we have before us.”

Jason Lazar of Keyon Communications offered the following “guiding principles that will help with the task at hand:”

•    Creation of a comprehensive grading scale that measures both quantitative and qualitative characteristics across applications.
•    An evaluation of the applicant itself. Is this applicant credible? Can it do what it says?
•    Speed. How quickly can this project be deployed? Projects that can be completed swiftly should be prioritized.
•    Is a particular proposal broad or narrow in scope? While neither should be precluded, the criteria need to address both types.
•    This is about broadband deployment, broadband penetration, and job creation. Make sure that this is where the funds are going.

Ed Anderson of the Nevada System of Higher Education offered the following observations on selection criteria:

•    Viability and sustainability
•    While desirable, partnering with commercial service providers should not be a requirement.
•    Open and competitive access with strict guidelines and severe penalties for denial or delay of equal access.
•    The projects demonstrate a greater contribution to the overall good.
•    The number of jobs potentially created has to be factored in here somehow.
•    The last priority would be blanket broadband. It’s inefficient and it’s very hard to monitor success.

Don Jackson with tri-county telephone in Basin, Wyoming, answered the question with more questions:

•    For consumers, how many people are going to be affected by what we’re doing here? Whether dealing with he the provision of broadband service to a group, or to individuals, how many people will be affected?
At what cost? What’s it going to cost? As Jackson reads the statute, cost should probably be woven into the equation.
•    What bandwidth is going to be provided?
•    Public benefit: to what degree will the project that’s being proposed impact hospitals, education, public safety, and the low income community?
•    To what extent will this particular project contribute to economic development?
•    We need to make sure that recipients can and will deliver.

Having summarized some successes in Wyoming, Jackson stated with confidence: “build it, and they will come,” a mantra met with skepticism throughout the entire public hearing.

Cathleen Moyer of Pioneer Communications had a longer list of proposed selection critera:

•    Applicant’s financial stability, especially where grants and loans are concerned.
•    Local presence, or a promise thereto.
•    The degree to which upgrades cost less than new build-out
•    Total number of end users impacted per geographic unit.
•    The implementation time table with preference for “shovel-ready” initiatives
•    Emphasize middle mile infrastructure.
•    The degree to which access is guaranteed to middle lime trunks
•    The degree to which the solution is expandable
•    Other benefits impacting education, economic development, and purchasing American-made services and goods.

Moyer repeatedly said that Pioneer had made good use of universal service funds for sustainable capital investments.

Mark Feest of CC Communications in Fallon, Nevada, jumped in and stayed focused on the notion of recurring cost, a constant undercurrent in the public meeting.

Feest’s message was less scripted. ”As opposed to one-time costs…, the criteria for making grants needs to take [into account] the sustainability of the business model.”

The public comment session was spirited, as questioners probed the language of the statute, drilling-in on the minimum critical specification as shaped by the verbs “shall” and “may.” Feest admonished to “find something that’s reputable, that’s open, that meets all of the requirements of the statute…. The statute is your best guidance. I would go very carefully by the words in it.”

After this comment, Seifert said, “I think Congress is going to be very happy to hear that they always like us to do exactly what they say.”

Two of the speakers were very concerned that large business interests might simply come to town, install some equipment, collect their pay, and move-on. Those observations caused the panel to reiterate what had been said about “local presence” in markets benefiting from grants.

Seifert followed up by commenting that the 20% matching contribution is intended to ensure that awardees have some “skin in the game.”

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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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