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States Seek Best Strategies on Obtaining Broadband Stimulus Funds Close-to-Home

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2009 – As the Obama administration on Monday begins poring over the nitty-gritty details about how they will be spending $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funds, individual states are grappling to find their own best strategies to tap the funds.

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WASHINGTON, March 16, 2009 – As the Obama administration on Monday begins poring over the nitty-gritty details about how they will be spending $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funds, individual states are grappling to find their own best strategies to tap the funds.

At the public meeting on March 10, officials at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration made clear that the broadband grants – unlike the past several decades’ trend toward “block grants” – will not be channeled through states.

Rather, with the exception that at least one grant be awarded within each state, the NTIA’s broadband grants will up for grabs by the most qualified applicant.

But that hasn’t discouraged representatives from states and state groups.

In fact, many are quite pleased with the way the broadband stimulus program is taking shape, and are eager to have their voice heard in the next phase of the broadband stimulus process.

Among their grounds for optimism:

  • States and their political subdivisions are themselves eligible to receive grants through the various broadband programs of the NTIA and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service.
  • States have the on-the-ground knowledge about particular communications needs that positions them to play the kind of coordinative and facilitative role that will be necessarily in an expedited process of broadband expenditures.
  • States’ engagement with economic development officials allows them to work collaboratively with both public- and private-sector partners.
  • States have been among the principal players in the attempts to map out broadband deployment.
  • States have filled what many regard as a leadership void in the field of broadband policy over the past several years.

Almost immediately following the March 10 public meeting, for example, broadband officials in the state of Illinois held in a conference call to consider statewide strategies to tap into federal dollars.

Prior to assuming the governorship, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn had assumed the cause of broadband, saying that “We have to be the modern-day, 21st century Johnny Appleseeds, planting good technology projects all over the state.” He did so as part of the state’s Broadband Deployment Council.

Massachusetts, another state leading the broadband drive, announced that it, too, would hold a conference call on Thursday, March 19th, from Noon to 1:00 p.m., to discuss broadband stimulus in Massachusetts.

The conference call is being organized by the Massachusetts Broadband Initiative, a non-profit with $40 million in state funds seeking to ensure universal broadband within the state.

That next phase of the broadband stimulus debate begins on March 16 with a six-day series of public meetings of the NTIA and RUS. Meetings on March 16, March 19, March 23 and March 24 will be in Washington. The meeting on March 17 will be in Las Vegas, and March 18 will be in Flagstaff, Ariz.

These state actors believe that states are poised to play an important and influential role in the process.
“The states bring a good deal to the table” when it comes to broadband policy, said Indiana Utility Regulatory Commissioner Larry Landis. “This is going to be a huge undertaking for NTIA, and the states can help them get up to speed relatively quickly.”

Landis, co-chair of a joint board proposing broadband actions by both state regulators and the Federal Communications Commission of the NARUC, points to the way that states stepped in over the past several years to fill a perceived void in federal policy-making with respect to broadband. At least 39 states have taken some steps toward creating statewide broadband policies and better access, he said.

In addition to Massachusetts and Illinois, California conducted a detailed census of broadband availability and speeds, which it released in January 2008. Over the past 18 months, Virginia directed money from a tobacco lawsuit settlement to provide the best-quality broadband possible to its rural industrial parks. And the Minnesota legislature, in passing its broadband legislation last summer, toyed with the notion of requiring broadband on the order of 1 Gigabit per second, or more than three orders of magnitude higher than what currently passes for “broadband” under the FCC’s definition.

BroadbandCensus.com has been profiling the state of broadband, and of broadband, within each state at http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/2008/09/broadband-census-in-the-states/.

Several state-level officials – including D.C. Public Service Commission Chairman Betty Ann Kane, New York State Public Service Commissioner Maureen Harrison, and National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners President Frederick Butler – will be featured during the NTIA/RUS events.

Chairman Kane, for example, is a featured speaker at Monday’s first panel, a panel of private sector eligibility. Kane has been working with the NARUC/FCC joint board on broadband, and has been focusing on creating a web site in which the efforts of the states may be showcased and coordinated. Butler and Harrison are scheduled for subsequent meetings.

Kane is also a confirmed panelist at BroadbandCensus.com’s Broadband Breakfast Club event on Tuesday, April 14, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., at the Old Ebbitt Grill. Registration for the event is available at http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com.

In the lead-up to Congress’ passage of the federal stimulus legislation on February 13, states were actively lobbying on the issue. “States have intimate knowledge of the communications environment, geography, and demographics within their boundaries,” said Butler, president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions.

Further, said Butler, “states can assure efficient utilization and targeting of stimulus monies and states have every incentive to make certain the money is not wasted.” Of particular concern to Butler was that “early adopter states should not be penalized,” according to a NARUC policy statement.

In other words, a state like Massachusetts shouldn’t become ineligible to recoup broadband funds spent out of its own treasury prior to the enactment of broadband stimulus legislation.

Massachusetts and a group of six other states made similar points in their own position paper, “Broadband Investment for Economic Recovery: Perspectives of an Ad-Hoc Group of State Broadband Entities,” (PDF) submitted to the administration and to Congress on February 9.

The states, including Arizona, Georgia, Maine, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina, called themselves “a small sample of the many states that are well positioned to make quick use of federal monies to partner in the effort to build out much needed broadband infrastructure.”

They argued for the full $7 billion in funding, for ensuring that the bulk of funding was made available through grants and not through loans, and that in-kind contributions by states be allowed to meet the 20 percent matching requirement called for the stimulus law.

Editor’s Note

4/2 – The preceeding story has corrected to the name of the President of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. It is Frederick Butler.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

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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NTIA

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

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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

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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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