Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to Highlight Obama Broadband Stimulus Meeting

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2009 – One week from Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission, the Commerce Department and the Rural Utilities Service will hold a public meeting on broadband stimulus measures. But who will speak for the administration of President Obama on broadband? None other than Secr

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2009 – One week from Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission, the Commerce Department and the Rural Utilities Service will hold a public meeting on broadband stimulus measures. But who will speak for the administration of President Obama on broadband?

None other than Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the keynote speaker at the event.

With an unconfirmed Secretary of Commerce (former Washington Gov. Gary Locke was named on Wednesday), a Federal Communications Commission Chairman-designee whose name hasn’t even been officially announced, let alone gone through the Senate, it falls to Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, to speak about the administration’s approach to broadband.

There is a lot that needs to be said – by Vilsack and by the others – once they are named or confirmed.

  • How will the administration divvy up the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funds that Congress passed on Friday, February 13?
  • What role will the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Agency play vis-à-vis the FCC, which is responsible for charting a national broadband strategy as part of the broadband stimulus measure?
  • How significant will the Agriculture Department’s role be, and will it depart from the much-criticized aspects of the Rural Utilities Service loan program under the Bush administration? Under the broadband provisions of fiscal stimulus law, Agriculture has $2.5 billion for rural broadband, versus $4.7 billion set to go to NTIA.
  • Finally, which agency, states or private entities will be responsible for mapping out broadband? The notion that the nation needs a comprehensive inventory of the precise locations within the county that are either served, unserved, or underserved by broadband was barely a blip on the telecommunications radar two years ago. Now, broadband data collection has risen to the point that it was even highlighted by President Obama in his budget message to Congress last week.

The March 10 public meeting on the “Broadband Initiatives of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” – the official name of the fiscal stimulus bill – will essentially be the kick-off point for the discussion, an NTIA official said Monday.

NTIA spokesman Bart Forbes on Monday released the agenda for the meeting, which includes a 10 a.m. welcome by Anna Gomez, acting administrator of NTIA, Vilsack’s speech, remarks by Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps, and then remarks from Mark Seifert, a senior advisor to the NTIA.

The meeting is scheduled to be held in the auditorium of the Department of Commerce, and to run until 11:30 a.m.

The remainder of the time is broken up into a discussion of “statutory requirement and timelines.”

That discussion will be led by Bernadette McGuire-Rivera, associate administrator at NTIA; David Villano, assistant administrator for telecommunications programs, USDA Rural Development; and Scott M. Deutchman, acting senior legal advisor to Acting Chairman Copps, at the FCC.

Speaking on Monday, Forbes said: “Today marks the day we are starting to schedule ex parte meetings of interested parties to provide recommendations on the development of the broadband program.”

He said that no meetings with private parties had taken place on Monday, and that none were scheduled to take place during this week.

“We really want to work with the states to get their concerns first, and [those of] all other constituents, in developing the particulars of the program,” said Forbes.

In a Federal Register notice last week, on Tuesday, February 24, the NTIA said that it would “Begin holding meetings with interested parties on Monday, March 2, 2009, in connection with the broadband grant programs described in the Broadband Data Services Improvement Act and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (collectively, ‘‘Broadband Grant Programs’’). All interested parties are invited to schedule a meeting.”

The Federal Register notice went on to say that the contents of the meeting would be made public, through “an ex parte presentation, and the substance of the meeting will be placed on the public record. No later than two (2) days after a meeting, an interested party must submit a memorandum to NTIA which summarizes the substance of the meeting. Any written presentations provided at the meeting will also be placed on the public record.”

The notice continued: “NTIA reserves the right to hold individual or group meetings, depending on the number of meeting requests received. Group meetings may be transcribed and/or streamed to the Web and placed on the public record.”

On Friday, February 27, the Federal Register contained a notice about the March 10, 2009, public meeting.

Editor’s Note:

See the guest op-ed, “U.S. Broadband Infrastructure Investments Need Transparency,” by Editor and Executive Director Drew Clark, which references Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s reference to the importance of statistical analysis to policy-making. (Ars Technica, February 9, 2009)

Broadband Breakfast Club

March Meeting: Broadband Competition: Do We Have It, and How Do We Get More of It? presents the March meeting of the Broadband Breakfast Club at Old Ebbitt Grill on Tuesday, March 10, 2009, at 8 a.m. Because of the Commerce Department/Agriculture Department/FCC Public Meeting on broadband stimulus from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., the Broadband Breakfast Club will adjourn at 9:30 a.m.

  • NEW! – James Baller, President of Baller Herbst Law Group, will provide a brief summary of the progress of the U.S. Broadband Coalition
  • Art Brodsky, Communication Director, Public Knowledge
  • Kathleen Ham, Vice President, Federal Regulatory, T-Mobile USA
  • Brent Olson, Assistant Vice President, Public Policy, AT&T
  • Emmett O’Keefe, Director, Federal Public Policy,
  • Scott Wallsten, Vice President for Research and Senior Fellow, Technology Policy Institute

Webcasts of the Broadband Breakfast Club Produced in Partnership with:

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