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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.”

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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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