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States Want NTIA and RUS to 'Outsource' Broadband Stimulus Grant-Vetting

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2009 – The complexities of relationships between federal, state, and local governments, the private sector and sovereign Indian tribes emerged during a Monday afternoon round table on the role of states in the NTIA-RUS grant process.

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News | NTIA-RUS Forum | Day 5, Session 2

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2009 – The complexities of relationships between federal, state, and local governments, the private sector and sovereign Indian tribes emerged during a Monday afternoon round table on the role of states in the NTIA-RUS grant process.

While state utility commissions and governments cite expertise and knowledge of local players as a reason for the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service to delegate authority, representatives of small business interests and Native American tribal governments saw the same factors as possible roadblocks to allowing stimulus funds to achieving program goals.

With the transition to digital television looming over NTIA, and with the RUS occupied with existing programs, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners general counsel Brad Ramsay suggested that the best efforts of both agencies would not be enough distribute stimulus grants and loans within the statutory 18 month timeline. It is “an impossible task,” he said.

Instead of needing to “scramble” in supplementing an already overworked staff, Ramsay suggested NTIA and RUS choose to enlist the help of state governments in vetting applications.

“We don’t have time to figure out the perfect solution,” he said. Ramsay suggested “outsourcing” some work to the states “gives the best possible outcome, given the time available.”

The states have the knowledge and expertise to properly handle the job, and already know already where the problems are, Ramsay said. NTIA and RUS should let the states help in ranking grant applicants and monitoring the progress of their implementation. Ramsey said states would use national standards.

States have a natural “gatekeeper” role to play during the grant process when “time is of the essence,” said National Governors Association Legislative Counsel David Parkhurst.

Not only can states best identify stakeholders and partners as well as identify and aggregate demand, but Parkhurst suggested that the first “wave” of grants should be reserved for states with existing broadband plans in place.

Such state groups would provide needed “evaluation benchmarks,” he said. State governments could certify to NTIA and RUS that grantees proposals’ are “consistent” with a state plan, Parkhurst said. This kind of federal-state collaboration will be “neccessary” to prevent wasted and duplicate efforts going forward, he said.

Others envisioned a more modest, consultative role for the states. Drawing on his own experience working with both federal and state governmental officials, Bristol Virginia Utilities president Wes Rosenbaum suggested that NTIA develop criteria and simply consult with states on funding recommendations.

Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, saw the need for a nationally-coordinated network of community-based organizations to best address the needs of aging populations. Markwood cited successes working with NTIA on DTV transition issues as evidence that the agency is more than up to the job.

And if states are going to have a role in the process, Markwood said it must be a “transparent” one that brings all stakeholders to the table “in an equal and broad-based manner.” All projects that receive funding should be focused on the goals intended for the stimulus package, she said.

But the idea of the states as a gatekeeper was troubling to Diana Bob, an attorney representing the National Congress of American Indians. While Bob acknowledged NTIA has had a state-tribal relations project and recognizes the value of partnering with state and local government, she was skeptical of allowing the states to speak for the tribes before RUS or NTIA.

“Tribes are not political subdivisions,” Bob explained. “States don’t have a vested interest in making sure tribes receive federal funds.” Bob noted that states often receive very little in terms of state funding. And states rarely “go to bat” for the tribes with the federal government, she said.

The congressionally mandated national broadband plan “must include Indian country,” she said. The states, which may do much of the actual mapping, must include Indian country in their maps and have “meaningful consultation” with tribal governments, Bob said. Such a relationship could be ordered by NTIA and RUS in grantmaking criteria.

Bob feared that a lack of a mandate to include Indian country would only lead to a repeat of past failures of efforts that lacked “meaningful inclusion.”

Bob noted that many tribal lands still lack a modern electrical or telephone grid because states simply “skirted around” reservations when mapping out transmission lines. “Some [tribal lands] don’t have electricity or analog access” today, she said.

But past failures are not predictors of the future if the federal government incentivizes cooperation with the tribes, Bob said. However, she carefully pointed out such successful partnerships “don’t happen on their own.” Rather, they are predicated on incentives to states. Tribal governments aren’t opposed to states taking a role, Bob said. But “there are many bad models out there: don’t go in that direction.”

When NARUC’s Ramsay was asked how states would resolve tribal dissatisfaction with any state ranking system, Bob quickly interjected that the tribes “aren’t asking for different or fast-track access, just a consistent application of federal trust responsibility.”

The relationship between the federal government and tribes is a unique one, she said, and would not lengthen anyone else’s grant approval process. “This is not a slippery slope,” She said.

Some questions from the assembled crowd called into question the ability of the states to remain objective in “ranking” projects when the state itself may be an applicant.

Ramsay was adamant that nothing in the stimulus bill’s legislative history prevents NTIA or RUS from consulting with the states while retaining final decision-making capability.

Markwood suggested that reliable data would be the key to successful grantmaking. Applications should be measured by how many individuals will be served, she said. “Reliable data becomes the transparent measure.”

But some worried that states would still favor applications from incumbents in any “ranking” process. Bob noted that the RUS actually requires incumbents to have priority. “But [some] Indian country isn’t even served by incumbents,” she said. Tribal governments might want to see some written agreements to guarantee access to networks, she said.

Ramsey wasn’t sure the states would automatically favor incumbent carriers. While the statute requires “ongoing, sustainable projects,” did not think that would automatically translate to incumbents.

And another questioner asked how the states could provide better oversight than RUS and NTIA when the states themselves have fewer regulations or resources for oversight: “This is a federal government project…. NTIA needs to retain control.”

Ramsay replied that submitting proposals electronically in a common application would remove the need for many of the resources some say would be needed.

But even as the session drew to a close, the state-as-gatekeeper idea remained under scrutiny. When asked what would happen if a project crossed state lines, Ramsay said it could get two separate rankings.

A strong state role was essential, said Ramsay. ”This is the best we can do with the time available.”

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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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