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Lawmakers Want Stimulus Funds Getting To Rural America; 'Remoteness' Definition Raises Concerns

WASHINGTON, October 27, 2009 – Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation raised concerns Tuesday about getting broadband stimulus funds out to remote areas and how these areas should be defined. The discussion took place during an oversight hearing on the process of awarding out the $7.2 billion provided to the federal government by Congress to expand broadband deployment and adoption.

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WASHINGTON, October 27, 2009 – Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation raised concerns Tuesday about getting broadband stimulus funds out to remote areas and how these areas should be defined.

The discussion took place during an oversight hearing on the process of awarding out the $7.2 billion provided to the federal government by Congress to expand broadband deployment and adoption.

The agencies responsible for administering the stimulus funds are the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. John “Jay” Rockefeller, D-W.V., both raised concerns about defining remote areas and making sure the funding is getting to the underserved areas in need. Jonathan Adelstein, administrator of the Rural Utilities Service at the Department of Agriculture, outlined the problem in his prepared testimony.

“[W]e have seen applicants struggle to comply with the requirements of the “remote” definition for last-mile rural remote programs,” Adelstein said.“We are contemplating major revisions that will continue to target highly-rural areas that are difficult to serve while making it easier for applicants to comply with any new definition we may establish.”

He added that they have seen “some applicants encounter challenges with our program’s rural definition” and “some applicants have found it difficult to comply with the loan requirement for middle mile and last mile non-remote projects.”

Adelstein responded to frustration expressed by Kerry and Rockefeller by saying that “we have everything on the table” and RUS is actively looking at new ways to define remoteness to get out funds to those in need.

“We do need to think about this,” said Adelstein. “I hope you just take note of what I’ve said,” responded Kerry.

The problem of defining remoteness and getting funds out to underserved areas was not the only issue raised during the hearing.

“NTIA and RUS face scheduling, staffing, and data challenges in evaluating applications and awarding funds. The agencies have taken steps to meet these challenges, such as adopting a two-step evaluation process, utilizing nongovernmental personnel, and publishing information on the application’s proposed service area,” said Mark Goldstein, director of physical infrastructure issues for the Government Accountability Office.

Still, “the agencies lack the needed time to apply lessons learned from the first funding round and face a compressed schedule to review new applications” so may “risk awarding funds to projects that are not sustainable or do not meet the priorities of the Recovery Act,” said Goldstein.

Adelstein said “concerns have prompted us to consider alternative approaches for the second round of funding that would simplify the application process and support our efforts to fund high-quality projects.”

NTIA Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Lawrence Strickling said the agency’s goal is to improve the application experience. He added that the agency will have the time to “adjust those aspects of the process that need to be improved.” Strickling said NTIA going forward will enhance its auditing and monitoring responsibilities.

“I believe that to be fair to applicants, we need to find a way to simplify the process going to forward,” said Rockefeller.

Going forward, Adelstein said “It continues to be our belief that we should move to compress the planned-for second and third [funding] rounds [to applicants] into a single round in order to give applicants additional time to create strong proposals and to ensure that we are able to meet the goal of obligating all funds by Sept. 20, 2010.”

RUS and NTIA plan to seek formal written comments on ways to better meet the requirements of the Recovery Act and will be releasing a request for information soon, he added. “We will make necessary changes based on these suggestions and our experience.”

About BroadbandCensus.com

BroadbandCensus.com was launched in January 2008, and uses “crowdsourcing” to collect the Broadband SPARC: Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. The news on BroadbandCensus.com is produced by Broadband Census News LLC, a subsidiary of Broadband Census LLC that was created in July 2009.

A recent split of operations helps to clarify the mission of BroadbandCensus.com. Broadband Census Data LLC offers commercial broadband verification services to cities, states, carriers and broadband users. Created in July 2009, Broadband Census Data LLC produced a joint application in the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program with Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program. In August 2009, BroadbandCensus.com released a beta map of Columbia, South Carolina, in partnership with Benedict-Allen Community Development Corporation.

Broadband Census News LLC offers daily and weekly reporting, as well as the Broadband Breakfast Club. The Broadband Breakfast Club has been inviting top experts and policy-makers to share breakfast and perspectives on broadband technology and internet policy since October 2008. Both Broadband Census News LLC and Broadband Census Data LLC are subsidiaries of Broadband Census LLC, and are organized in the Commonwealth of Virginia. About BroadbandCensus.com.

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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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National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Minority Community Grant Applications

The more detail, the better, NTIA officials said of program.

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Scott Woods, senior broadband program specialist and team lead for NTIA's Connecting Minority Communities, speaking at Broadband Communities in Houston

WASHINGTON, October 24, 2021–Lack of eligibility or proper planning or documentation errors are frequent grounds for disqualification of applicants for the United States’ Commerce Department’s Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program, agency officials said Wednesday and Thursday.

Speaking at webinars for individuals considering applying for the grants – which are being made by the National Telecommunications and Information Association of the Commerce Department – officials shared the most commons mistakes made by applicants when applying for the grants.

Among the officials speaking during the two presentations were Scott Woods, senior broadband program specialist and team lead for the Connecting Minority Communities program, Management and Program Analyst Pandora Beasley-Timpson, Broadband Program Specialist Janice Wilkins, Telecommunications Policy Analyst Francine Alkisswani, and Broadband Program Specialists Cameron Lewis and Kevin Hughes.

Among the biggest mistakes is eligibility. “Only historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, or minority serving institutions can apply,” said NTIA’s Michelle Morton.

Making a Successful Application

Morton and other leaders of the program also shared traits of a successful grant application.

“Good applicants provide a business and execution plan,” they said. “[Applicants] should demonstrate there is a core staff that is dedicated to the proposed project and knowledgeable about the process, as well as an editor, preferably one not connected to the project, to encourage non-biased review of the grant to see how it reads.”

Project Implementation and Evaluation

When describing their project implementation and planning process, applicants should have a clear project narrative that “identifies specific tasks, measurable milestones, and performance outcomes resulting from the proposed project activity,” the officials said.

Importantly, the NTIA stressed that all applicants must comply with Commerce Department regulations for the protection of human subjects during all research conducted or supported with grant funds.

This is important because the NTIA is required to determine whether or not a project’s evaluation plan “meets the definition of human subject research.” Thus, no work can be taken for research involving human subject until a federal grants officer approves of the research.

Consortiums

NTIA leaders also addressed questions about consortium-based applicants. “The lead application is the entity entering into the grant agreement with the NTIA and assumes primary operational and financial responsibility for the project.”

A consortium allows Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities and minority-serving institutions to partner with local governments on their application. Each consortium partner must provide a letter of a commitment to the project, including the detailed role of each member of the project and the specific commitment of each member of the project.

Finances and Budgeting

Applicants are also required to include financial documentation that details how the funds will be used and how the funding plans to meet the projects’ intended goals.

Additionally, applicants’ budget narrative should serve to explain how the costs were estimated and justify how the budget items are necessary to implement project goals and objectives and accomplished applicant’s proposed outcomes.

“We encourage out of the box thinking with regard to applicants putting together their projects,” said Hughes.

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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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