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Federal Broadband Stimulus Funds to Come in as Soon as Three Weeks

CHICAGO, November 17, 2009 – As the 121st meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners kicked off Tuesday, the usual presentations on energy efficiency, commodities and electrical grid jiggering couldn’t match the drama and dilemma surrounding a topic that didn’t even exist a few decades ago: the future of broadband, and broadband stimulus money in particular.

That’s a $7.2 billion question—that number representing the amount of money federal agencies can deploy before September 2010. And the good news coming from three key federal players is that the money will start coming to states as soon as early next month, with grants rolling out through early 2010.



CHICAGO, November 17, 2009 – As the 121st meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners kicked off Tuesday, the usual presentations on energy efficiency, commodities and electrical grid jiggering couldn’t match the drama and dilemma surrounding a topic that didn’t even exist a few decades ago: the future of broadband, and broadband stimulus money in particular.

That’s a $7.2 billion question—that number representing the amount of money federal agencies can deploy before September 2010. And the good news coming from three key federal players is that the money will start coming to states as soon as early next month, with grants rolling out through early 2010.

The first rounds dished out by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the U.S. Rural Utilities Service (RUS) won’t nearly match the demand, though. With 2,200 applications on file, Washington would need many times the available funding. “It’s just stunning the creativity and industriousness in these proposals,” said Lawrence Strickling, NTIA’s director. “It’s sad we don’t have the money to fund them all; we were oversubscribed seven times.”

The good news is that the NTIA and RUS have a request for information (RFI) out, with a November 30 deadline, as it seeks input from states to tweak and streamline the application process. This marks a prelude to second round of funding that would include a longer application window before funds must be distributed by September 2010.

Of the $2.5 billion available to the RUS, loans to applicants would allow some leveraging, said Jonathan Adelstein, RUS administrator. “We can leverage it up to $7 billion or $9 billion; whatever we use for loans we can leverage up to 14 to 1,” he said. “We want to use that money to service the more rural and difficult-to-reach areas.”

The RUS oversees quite a large footprint; 72 percent of the United States is rural land mass. Quite a bit of that represents underserved or unserved area, and Adelstein said his agency is doing all it can to get his funds out, also starting in early December.

The time crunch has meant viewing funding and loan applications at breakneck speed, and Adelstein told about 200 attendees “you can help us with the map, to flag the areas that are truly unserved or underserved.”

In reviewing its 2,200 applications, the NTIA has certain hoops that must be cleared by those hoping to get that broadband money. In terms of the middle mile paradigm, “We’re finding it’s very important that communities have high-speed fiber, and that [public and private] institutions are able to subscribe to this fiber,” Strickling said. For example, applicants who know, and can demonstrate, that a private hospital had $30,000 to branch into a fiber-optic trunk have gone the extra mile in impressing the NTIA. We’d like to see that applicants have dealt with that on the front end. We have a higher degree of confidence when we see that.”

Second is sustainability; “Is the project going to be there in five years? Part of that is seeing how reliable the numbers are,” Strickling said.

In a move that likely deflected criticism and tough questions, Strickling and Adelstein acknowledged that the application process needed reform and streamlining—and that this remained an ongoing priority, as shown in the current RFI.

Both men urged attendees to keep their eye on the big picture, and what the broadband stimulus funds could accomplish. “This is such an extraordinary opportunity,” Adelstein said. “The whole time I was [a commissioner] on the FCC, I was talking about doing this, and here we are. We can’t let the rural areas fall behind. We’ve got to get it out there.”

That theme was echoed by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who anchored Tuesday’s opening meeting by touting his state’s ongoing efforts to achieve broadband parity between rural areas and the city—and efforts to bring health care and public safety information sharing into the 21st Century and beyond.

A longtime advocate for citizens in the utilities sector, Quinn took over from impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich in February, making a forceful turn in state policy regarding broadband policy and implementation.

Tipping his hat to fellow Illinois politician—President Barack Obama—Quinn said: “It’s time to take the ideas and visions of his campaign and turn them into reality. That’s why I’m impressed with the federal stimulus bill; it provides a lot of money for broadband initiatives.”

Quinn, who founded Illinois Citizens Utility Board 25 years ago, stressed that states can’t merely wait for Washington to solve their broadband issues and shortcomings. “We try as much as possible to work with our communities in broadband development on Main Street,” he said. “But clearly, the broadband initiative represents the opportunity of a lifetime.”

And the challenge of a lifetime as well. Quinn said that as governor, perhaps his most urgent broadband goal remains creating new infrastructure. That is, as roads are renovated, Quinn wants an information highway built into every highway.

“The opportunity to link up with the federal government and form an information highway that links so many aspects of our society—health care, public safety, education—is our biggest challenge,” he said. “We have some catching up to do with other countries in terms of creating a robust system. But if 50 years from now, we can look back and say the information highway got done, I’d be happy.”

Not that the Obama administration is intent on hurrying things too much to meet the crushing need. Asked if he might be tempted to shortcut due diligence in reviewing applications in a rush to funding, Strickling broke up the audience with his one-word, emphatic answer: “No.”

Editor’s Note: Special Corresponent Lou Carlozo can be reached at


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



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



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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Speaking at Commerce Department Symposium, Federal Agencies Doubt Benefits of Spectrum Plan



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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