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Extending Broadband Well Worth Investments, Say Industry and Nonprofits

WASHINGTON, July 18, 2009 – The possible benefits of extending broadband to anchor institution, rural areas, and individual homes is well worth the effort and financial investment, a panel of industry experts and non-profit representatives agreed during a Friday panel discussion.

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WASHINGTON, July 18, 2009 – The possible benefits of extending broadband to anchor institution, rural areas, and individual homes is well worth the effort and financial investment, a panel of industry experts and non-profit representatives agreed during a Friday panel discussion.

“We are beginning to see some really promising applications” of technology for bridging broadband divides, such as software which is “approaching the effectiveness of an actually tutor” students, said Thomas Kalil, associate director for policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology.

Kalil spoke in a keynote address at “Broadband Stimulus and The National Broadband Plan: What They Mean for Communications, Technology, and Innovation,” sponsored by the Media Access Project.

Kalil focused on the benefits and applications of broadband technology in a variety of areas, including educational training.

Additionally, technology can also be used to help transition to a low carbon economy and create green jobs, Kalil said.

In order to develop this technology effectively, it is important to get multiple perspectives on whether or not a policy will work in a multi-stakeholder forum, he said.

One way the government can use its fund for broadband technology efficiently is by establishing “ambitious” and concrete goals for technology projects and by offering generous rewards for the teams that reach the goal first.

The government would only pay those teams which successfully meet the goals, he said.

Kalil gave an example from the University of Berkeley, where he started a program providing students with funding and support for technology projects. One student was able to generate $7.1 million in savings by identifying the environmental impact of the campus.

“That was not a bad return of investment for $3,000,” he said.

Lisa Zaina, chief of staff at the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service, referred to the $2.4 billion in grants and loans from the broadband stimulus in the round of funding for which applications are due on August 14.

From taxpayer resources of $2.5 billion allocated to RUS, the agency will be able to award up to $9 billion in grants and loans, she said.

John Windhausen, coordinator of the Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition, said that anchor institutions such as libraries are an important way to spend the broadband stimulus funds.

These institutions, said Windhausen, serve millions of people. By getting a high-enough capacity broadband link, such an application can be a “jumping off point” for community broadband – if it is an open connection.

“You can get a fiber connection into every single library for less than $1 billion,” and Sweden has already made the equivalent of a $30 billion investment in broadband, he said.

Joanne Hovis, president of Columbia Telecommunications Corporation, agreed with Windhausen on the importance of anchor institutions. She added that some of the stimulus money should go to big bandwidth projects in rural areas.

Fiber to the home in poor areas, said Hovis, could improve the quality of life in those communities. It could also save people money by providing high quality video for health care and high quality video conferencing, she said. By contrast, lower-speed technologies, such as digital subscriber lines, might not be enough to keep the U.S. competitive in the global economy.

In order to reach the goal of getting fiber to every home and small business in the United States, “we are going to need every potential provider,” including new ones, “to be part of the solution,” she said.

The problem with many private sector providers, said Hovis, is that they are going to “the most desirable of the rural areas,” while many of the less desirable ones are being left out.

“A wide range of different communities will need government solutions,” and the local governments of these areas understand what their constituents want and need, she said.

Ken Eisner, managing director of One Economy Ventures, spoke of the need to create a national digital literacy program. He said that public housing should be rewired with broadband connections.

Ted Hearn, vice president of communications at the American Cable Association, agreed with Eisner on the need for such a program, but added that funding “should be set up in a separate program.”

Eisner said that the government should not “step in and provide resources,” but should recognize needs and promote partnerships between companies that can meet those needs.

Hearn also emphasized the important of the so-called “middle mile” as the link between last-mile broadband systems – like cable networks – and the Internet’s backbone. Many middle mile connections are still slow and expensive T-1 lines.

Broadband stimulus funding should be doled out to improve middle mile connections, and “we don’t care who gets the funding for it,” he said.

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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