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Broadband Stimulus Rules Released; Key Terms Defined For Funding

WASHINGTON, July 1, 2009 – Senior Administration Officials from the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration detailed the newly released Notice of Funds Available (NOFA) under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, now available at broadbandusa.gov.

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WASHINGTON, July 1, 2009 – Senior Administration Officials from the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration detailed the newly released Notice of Funds Available (NOFA) under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, now available at broadbandusa.gov.

The joint NOFA, the first of two to be released today, contains the applicant guidelines and policy justifications, gleaned from more than 1,000 comments and roundtable meetings, in Washington, Arizona and Nevada.

In the first of three rounds, $4 billion will be available, but not all of the funds will be in grants. NTIA, which only has grant making authority, will release $1.6 billion dollars in grants, but the majority of RUS funds will be in loan/grant combinations.

RUS will release $2.4 billion dollars in the first round. Of the RUS funds, $400 million will be for grants for remote areas, $800 million will be in loan/grant combinations for non-remote areas, $800 million will be loan/grant combinations for middle mile facilities, and $320 million will be held in reserve.

The numbers stated by the Department of Agriculture is the effective amount of funds available. A senior official estimated that the 1.6 billion in loan/grant combos would cost $400 million in stimulus funds, which includes the grant portion, and the “cost of money” to loan the money.

The NOFA also contains the much-anticipated definitions of broadband, unserved and underserved areas.

Broadband is defined as a two-way service that advertises speeds of 768 kilobits (kbps) down and 200 kbps up. A senior official from NTIA stated that this speed would allow funding to the areas needing it most, although higher speeds are desired.

Unserved and underserved are defined in terms of facilities-based, terrestrial broadband, both fixed and mobile. This definition ignores satellite service, since satellite effectively covers the entire country. Satellite service providers are eligible for funding under the NOFA.

An unserved area is one or more Census Blocks where 90 percent of households do not have access to facilities-based broadband.

An underserved area, for “last mile” funding purposes can be designated by meeting one of three criteria: (1)  No more than 50 percent of households have access to facilities-based terrestrial broadband; (2) no fixed or mobile provider advertises speeds of at least 3 megabits per second (Mbps); and (3) the rate of subscribership is 40 percent or less.

An area can be designed as underserved for “middle mile” projects if one interconnection point terminates in a “last mile” underserved area.

A second NOFA is scheduled to be released today, one that allocates $250 million for state level maps. These funds are available to the governor of the state, or the governor’s designee.

There will be strict criteria for these maps, which will be detailed in the forthcoming NOFA. The data from these maps will be used to create the national broadband map, part of the Broadband Data Improvement Act, also funded through the Recovery Act.

The states will be called upon to rank the projects in their states once NTIA and the Department of Agriculture determine the finalists.

The NOFA also sets the Federal Communiations Commission’s Internet Policy Statement as a floor for its non-discrimination principles.

Applications for the first round will be accepted from July 14 to August 14.

NTIA

Senate Advances Legislation Creating Office of Internet Connectivity Within Commerce Department’s NTIA

Andrew Feinberg

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

Adrienne Patton

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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

Masha Abarinova

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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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