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Former FCC Commissioner O’Rielly Emphasizes ‘Unserved’ As Priority for Infrastructure Bill Funds

Whether infrastructure money should prioritize those with the lowest speeds has been a chief debate since the bill’s passage.

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WASHINGTON, March 15, 2022 – Setting the speed threshold too high for federal infrastructure funding will move money away from a focus on the unserved, said a former Federal Communications Commissioner.

Mike O’Rielly said on a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event late last month that the 100 Megabits per second download and 20 Mbps requirement for money from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act will see funding flow to better-connected areas, which cost less to update versus installing basic speeds in unserved areas. The argument is in-line with critics who say that speeds in some rougher and harder-to-reach areas require at least some connectivity at first, with gradual increases.

Under the IIJA, “unserved” Americans are those without access to the current 25 Mbps x 3 Mbps federal standard, while “underserved” are those without access to 100 Mbps x 20 Mbps.

O’Rielly was following up on an op-ed he wrote for Broadband Breakfast, which includes a concern that money from the infrastructure bill would go toward areas that are already adequately connected.

The former FCC commissioner made a similar argument nearly a year ago, when he said during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing that an initial proposal for 100/100 symmetrical speeds is “out-of-touch” definition of broadband. His chief complaint was that these speeds exceeded consumer needs and that federal dollars for these speeds would just go toward areas already adequately covered.

There has been much debate about how the bill should prioritize service to individuals without access to 25/3 Mbps internet speeds – the current federal standard – as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is preparing to doll out $42.5 billion to the states for builds.

The policy debate has received input from officials as high ranking as a U.S. senator, with Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee urging an initial focus on the unserved during a bipartisan panel of senators at the CES 2022 conference earlier this year. (Blackburn was the only senator on the panel to vote against the IIJA.)

What about “newbuilding”?

Opponents of O’Rielly’s view of prioritization feel both unserved and underserved populations should be targeted simultaneously, and that a lack of focus on the underserved operating with relatively slow internet speeds would represent a failure for the IIJA. Chip Pickering, the CEO of INCOMPAS, a trade association for telecom competition, made that argument when he said overbuilding isn’t a bad thing so long as those federal dollars are going toward new, better and faster networks.

Responding to O’Rielly’s position at last month’s BBLO event, Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO of open-access telecom SiFi Networks, said he is less focused on the unserved-underserved debate and more focused on public funds going to areas that private capital cannot reach.

Screenshot of Drew Clark, Mike O’Rielly and Ben Bawtree-Jobson

O’Rielly doubtful on new FCC map this summer

O’Rielly also stated that the foremost priority should be on the FCC getting an updated broadband map to allow the NTIA to proceed with dispensing the infrastructure bill funds.

And while Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the new map could come this summer, O’Rielly said he thinks that timeline will “slip.”

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event and REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022, 12 Noon ET — A Forum With Broadband Breakfast Expert Opinion Authors

Broadband Breakfast is a leading source of news and events focused on broadband policy and internet technology. We cover the Washington broadband scene, just as we are part of this community. One other important function we serve is as the host of the premier “Expert Opinion” forum on all things broadband. We publish Expert Opinion articles topics including broadband infrastructure, broadband’s impact, and the role of Big Tech companies. In this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session, Editor and Publisher Drew Clark will interview the authors of recent Expert Opinions on Broadband Breakfast

Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:

  • Michael O’Rielly, Former Federal Communications Commissioner, Principal, MPORielly Consulting, LLC
  • Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO, SiFi Networks
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

Ben Bawtree-Jobson is CEO of SiFi Networks, which funds, builds and owns FiberCity networks. Internet Service Providers, 4G/5G carriers and other service providers wishing to deliver ubiquitous high-speed broadband services to business and residential properties in cities make use of FiberCity networks, which also offer connectivity for city-wide Internet of Things applications.

Michael O’Rielly served as a Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission from 2013 through 2020.  He is currently President at MPORielly Consulting Inc., a Visiting Fellow at the Hudson Institute, and a Senior Fellow at the Media Institute.  Before joining the FCC, Mr. O’Rielly held a variety of leading staff positions during 20 years on Capitol Hill in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, ending as Policy Advisor in the Office of the Senate Republican Whip.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

Reporter T.J. York received his degree in political science from the University of Southern California. He has experience working for elected officials and in campaign research. He is interested in the effects of politics in the tech sector.

Funding

34 States Submit Letters of Intent to Participate in NTIA’s Main Broadband Program

National Telecommunications and Information Administration announces news on its ‘Internet for All’ web portal for three IIJA programs.

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Photo of Gina Raimondo from CNBC

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – The Biden administration announced Wednesday that 34 states and territories signed on to participate in the programs outlined by its “Internet for All” initiative.

The “Internet for All” moniker is the new umbrella web site of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration for its three programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: the Broadband Digital Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, and the State Digital Equity Act programs.

These programs are part of the administration’s goals of bridging the digital divide and achieving universal broadband by 2030.

Since NITA announced the IFA on Friday, the following territories and states announced their intention to participate: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, American Samoa, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, United States Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo stated that the NTIA’s programs would be critical to allowing Americans to “participate in the modern economy.”

“Generations before us brought electricity to rural America and built the interstate highways,” said Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA administrator. “Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states are now ‘signing on’ to this initiative to promote Internet access and adoption so that everyone in America has a chance to thrive in the modern economy.”

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Funding

States Should Use Treasury Department’s Broadband Funds to Compliment Infrastructure Bill

Director of the Capital Projects Fund said the fund should be used with infrastructure bill money to close broadband gaps.

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Screenshot of Joseph Wender

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – States should use the Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund in conjunction with money from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to cover gaps in broadband service, said the CPF’s director on Wednesday.

With the release by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of funding application guidelines last week, states are focused on how they can access part of the $65 billion offered through the IIJA.

But CPF Director Joseph Wender said at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday that the CPF money is available right now to close the gaps in broadband coverage and will be most effective when used as a precursor to IIJA funds that will provide permanent solutions to coverage gaps. He suggested that states view IIJA funds as “complementary” to capital projects.

Screenshot of Joseph Wender

“We expect to make our first awards to those first states in a matter of weeks, potentially days,” said Wender. “The Capital Projects Fund is the tip of the spear in the administration’s goal of closing the digital divide.”

States are responsible to determine with local entities where the money will go, said Wender, provided the individual programs follow all Treasury Department requirements.

The CPF was instituted in March of 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted the need for communities to access high-speed internet.

It allocates $10 billion to the U.S. Department of Treasury for critical capital projects that directly enable work, education, and health monitoring. It is charged to get the money out to states as soon as possible to help the nation recover from the pandemic.

The money can be used for broadband infrastructure, digital connectivity technologies such as device programs to supply citizens with devices that connect to the internet or public Wi-Fi, and multi-purpose community facilities that are publicly available.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022, 12 Noon ET – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund and Broadband Infrastructure

The release of the U.S. Commerce Department’s rules on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act heightens the importance of inter-agency coordination on broadband projects. In this special Broadband Breakfast Live Online event, Joseph Wender, director of the Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund will speak with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark about the role of the Treasury Department in broadband infrastructure spending.

Panelists:

  • Joseph Wender, Director, U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund
  • Drew Clark (presenter and host), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources

Joseph Wender currently serves as Director of the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund.  Wender previously served for nearly 13 years on Capitol Hill, most recently as Senator Ed Markey’s Senior Policy Advisor, where he led a team covering a wide range of issues including telecommunications and infrastructure.  Wender also worked as then-Representative Markey’s Legislative Director.  Prior to working for Markey, Wender served as Counsel for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  He received his B.A. from Wesleyan University and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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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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