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Recovery Act

Obama Administration Says Billions In Government Broadband Money On Its Way

WASHINGTON, December 3, 2009 – Despite government delays in announcing the grant awards for the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money Congress allocated in January, Vice President Joe Biden Thursday said that within the next month billions will be given to broadband and high-speed rail investments.

“And by design, the items in the act which have the biggest impact are yet to come. Within the next two weeks to a month, another roughly $13 billion is going to be announced rolling out in terms of both investments in broadband and high-speed rail, and competitive education and infrastructure,” said Biden in remarks he gave at the opening session of the White House Jobs and Economic Growth Forum.

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WASHINGTON, December 3, 2009 – Despite government delays in announcing the grant awards for the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money Congress allocated in January, Vice President Joe Biden Thursday said that within the next month billions will be given to broadband and high-speed rail investments.

“And by design, the items in the act which have the biggest impact are yet to come. Within the next two weeks to a month, another roughly $13 billion is going to be announced rolling out in terms of both investments in broadband and high-speed rail, and competitive education and infrastructure,” said Biden in remarks he gave at the opening session of the White House Jobs and Economic Growth Forum.

“In fact, the money spent on clean water, renewable energy, superfund sites, and much more, is going to more than double — it’s going to more than double in this quarter and will maintain a similar pace for the next two quarters,” he said.

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service are administering the funds designed to expand broadband deployment and adoption. The agencies planned to complete the first round of funding by the end of 2009, but due to delays, they now plan to so by February 2010.

The agencies also plan to then limit the remaining grant awards to one more round of funding, which they recently said “will begin early in 2010.” All stimulus funding for the broadband initiatives must be distributed by September 30, 2010, according to a statutory deadline set by Congress.

President Obama finished his address Thursday in a spirit of optimism, drawing attention to the nation’s strong technology sector.

“We still have the best universities in the world,” said Obama.”We’ve got some of the finest science and technology in the world, we’ve got the most entrepreneurial spirit in the world, and we’ve got some of the most productive workers in the world.”

“And if we get serious, then the 21st century is going to be the American century, just like the 20th century was. But we’re going to have to approach this with a sense of seriousness and try to set the politics and the chatter aside for a while and actually get to work,” said Obama.

Following the comments delivered by Biden and Obama, senior administration officials hosted a discussion with approximately 130 attendees on job creation and expanding the economy.

Those slated to attend the meeting included Larry Cohen of Communications Workers of America, Eric Schmidt of Google, James McNerney of Boeing, Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Jim Whitehurst of Red Hat, Sal Iannuzzi of Monster Worldwide, and Randall Stephenson of AT&T, among others.

“In today’s summit, President Obama reiterated his focus on small business and innovation … Broadband infrastructure investment holds great potential for job creation, both in the deployment but also the innovation it affords. President Obama’s focuses for economic improvement need to be reflected in the distribution of these grants,” said James Losey with the New America Foundation.

Information technology CEOs signed a letter dated December 2 to Obama suggesting the administration take a series of steps to improve the country’s economic wellbeing. The letter asks the President to ensure that implementation of stimulus programs targeted at high-tech investments such as broadband deployment “is completed as swiftly and effectively as possible.”

“Improved healthcare, energy, and broadband are priorities for most of the world; however, our nation is lagging in global leadership in these areas. This must change and the recovery funds are an opportunity to immediately begin effecting change,” reads the letter.

The tech leaders called on Obama “to increase America’s domestic pipeline of highly skilled workers, while also attracting and retaining the world’s best and brightest workers. We should do everything possible to retain highly educated foreign professionals already in this country whose companies want them to stay, and those individuals seeking advanced degrees at our college and universities.”

The letter further asks the President to continue to work toward opening new markets for U.S. goods and services around the world. Tech leaders want the government to enact a permanent extension of a strengthened research and development tax credit and other business tax incentives set to expire at the end of this year.

“In the longer term, we must keep pace with our major trading partners’ tax systems by revising our own international tax code to ensure American companies and workers are able to compete on a level playing field with foreign competitors at home and abroad. Along with expiring tax provisions, providing pension relief through an extended timeline for catch-up payments should be addressed to avoid crushing obligations resulting in further economic contraction,” reads the letter.

Signees to the document included: Dirk Meyer, president of AMD; Mike Splinter, CEO of Applied Materials; John Chambers, CEO of Cisco; Michael Dell, CEO of Dell; Mark Hurd, CEO of Hewlett-Packard Company; Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel; Steven Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft; and Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle.

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.

Broadband Mapping

In Discussing ‘Broadband and the Biden Administration,’ Trump and Obama Transition Workers Praise Auctions

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Screenshot from the November 2 Broadband Breakfast Live Online webcast

November 22, 2020 – In the event that the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden seeks substantial funding for broadband infrastructure, there is a strong likelihood that such monies would be channeled through a reverse-auction mechanism, said panelists at the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on November 11.

See more from Broadband Breakfast Live Online, including “Broadband and the Biden Administration, Part II,” on December 2, 2020.

In a discussion with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, two broadband policy experts who served on the transition teams for Donald Trump and Barack Obama, respectively, championed the role of such a mechanism as efficient and fair.

Previous attempts to run funding through other selection processes provided funds only to the well connected, claimed to Mark Jamison, research and education director at the University of Florida, and who served on then President-elect Trump’s 2016 transition team.

Places with a Democratic governor or a congressman of either party that sat on a powerful committee were funded more often compared to other regions, Jamison said.

Whether or not funding mechanisms were in fact biased in that way, both Jamison and Technology Policy Institute President Scott Wallsten both praised the transparency and economic efficiency of the Federal Communications Commission’s reverse-auction funding mechanism.

Wallsten, an economist who was involved in the transition for then President-elect Obama, and who also served on the National Broadband Plan implemented in the first year of the Obama administration, criticized the Rural Utility Service and the old funding process of Universal Service Fund. Both said under these mechanism, a lot of money is spent without good information about how such funds are awarded or distributed.

Wallsten and Jamison agreed that more data would help make broadband funding more effective, they also said that the FCC was right to move forward with its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction on October 29 – part of the new auction-based approach to the Universal Service Fund – despite imperfect mapping.

In part, this was because any inadequacy of mapping data can be resolved in the challenge process, said Wallsten. Additionally, it is not clear that auctions like RDOF, or the Connect American Fund auction in 2018, would have yielded better results had the FCC waited to update their maps.

Jamison and Wallston also projected how the Biden administration might tackle net neutrality, Section 230 and antitrust regulation.

Jamison said that if the Biden administration reinstitutes net neutrality, it will quickly see that that won’t work very well.

Wallsten said that if it’s reinstituted the debate will be different than in the past. A large part of net neutrality is paid prioritization where third parties can pay ISP’s to put their content “at the front of the line.” He said that the pandemic has demonstrated why no paid prioritization may be a mistake, as many people need guarantees of stable connection for their schooling and telehealth applications.

Wallsten also noted that many made doom and gloom forecasts when the Trump administration FCC removed net neutrality protections in December 2017. None of those predictions came to pass, he said.

Both also agreed that the FCC should not be involved the regulation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech platforms from liability for user-generated comments.

They also were wary of changes to the consumer welfare standard governing antitrust because, said Jamison, “If you’re not regulating for consumers, who are we regulating for?”

See “Broadband Breakfast Live Online on Wednesday, November 11: Broadband and the Biden Administration,” Broadband Breakfast

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National Broadband Plan

National Broadband Plan Has Held Up Well, With Notable Downsides, Say Authors

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Photo of Blair Levin, former executive director of the National Broadband Plan, by New America used with permission

June 29, 2020 — The National Broadband Plan has been successful, despite notable downsides, said panelists in a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar on Friday.

The plan, first released ten years ago, aimed to increase competition, provide lower-cost service to more Americans and decrease regulatory barriers to broadband rollout.

“Ten years in this space in terms of technology is remarkable,” said Rebekah Goodheart of Jenner & Block. “At the time only 15 percent of people had access… of 25 megabits… The fact that this plan was able to stand up through time shows how visionary it really was.”

“All the stuff that we’re taking for granted now are things that came out of recommendations from the plan,” she added.

Participants noted that, despite broadband access deficiencies amid the coronavirus, “overall broadband adoption rates [are] going up reasonably well right now,” said John Horrigan, Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute.

But there are still significant barriers to unfettered telework capabilities, he said.

“We’re also waking up to the fact that smartphones, as useful as they are, have significant limitations for completing homework,” he said.

Ruth Milkman of Quadra Partners agreed.

“There’s a lot of stuff you can’t do on a smartphone,” she said. “It’s hard to read papers… and there are data caps, and it can be quite expensive if you try to use it in the same way that you would use a fixed wireline network.”

Blair Levin, non-resident Fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Project of the Brookings Institution, said that sections of the National Broadband Plan held up remarkably well, even ten years later.

“In the healthcare section which says, ‘We really need to utilize telehealth because someday there’ll be a pandemic’… it does look very prophetic,” he said.

Despite the proactivity of the policy, Levin said, it has certain shortcomings that the FCC should address.

“We’ve become much more aware in this society of different ways in which our institutions do not include everyone and lead to inequalities,” he said. “I would argue that absolutely needs to be a new plan… now it’s more important than ever because we recognize the importance of closing that digital divide.”

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Digital Inclusion

Authors of the 2010 National Broadband Plan Say That a ‘Refresh’ Should Not Only Be Up to FCC

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Photo of INCOMPAS policy summit panelists discussing the National Broadband Plan by Adrienne Patton

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2020 – Panelists at the INCOMPAS policy summit Tuesday looked back with fondness on the Federal Communication Commission’s National Broadband Plan that was released 10 years ago this month. They agreed that if the plan is refreshed, the FCC should not be the lone agency to lead in the changes.

The 10-year-old plan was designed to “ensure robust competition” and “maximize the benefits of broadband,” while fostering the spread of broadband across the country, said INCOMPAS General Counsel Angie Kronenberg.

New Street Research Policy Analyst Blair Levin, who led the plan’s development, called it a “three-act play.”

The first act was the hiring people. The second act was holding hearings and acquiring data. The third act was an extensive writing process, Levin said.

When asked how the United States is doing in regards to the plan, Levin said there have been great improvements and some complications.

Mattey Consulting Principal Carol Mattey who worked on the plan, said it was a “long and evolutionary process,” that often required “nitty gritty details” from complex concepts.

Technology Policy Institute Senior Fellow John Horrigan, who also worked on the plan, said that while the statistics do not show a large increase in Americans that have wireline broadband at home, smart phones and mobile devices have made a huge difference.

Even so, Horrigan admitted that for children who have to do homework at home, smart phones are not enough.

However, Horrigan said the way that policy makers understand and think about the digital divide has improved.

A decade ago, city mayors were not concerned about digital inclusion, and now that has changed, said Horrigan.

Levin disclosed his frustration with the “metrics” section of the plan. The availability of bandwidth should not hinder economic growth, said Levin. But, “fundamentally we’ve made progress,” Levin admitted.

“The regulatory process is too slow to catch up,” and legislators are hesitant to look so far in the future while also considering cost concerns, said Mattey.

Looking ahead to a possible refresh of the plan, Horrigan said the FCC should not be the sole organization reworking the document.

Levin agreed and added that broadband has changed over the past decade as well. He called broadband a “mixed bag.”

The whole federal government should be thinking about how to revive the plan and take into consideration cybersecurity and privacy, Levin advised.

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