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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.”

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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