First NTIA broadband stimulus roundtable

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) held the first of six broadband stimulus roundtables at the Department of Commerce building in Washington, DC on March 16. The roundtables are designed to get public input on the rules the NTIA must write to implement the Broadband Technology Oppportunities grant program.

The first event consisted of three panels: "private sector eligibility," "coordination between NTIA and RUS on broadband initiatives" and "innovative programs to encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service and expanding public computer center capacity."

Speed Matters' Debbie Goldman spoke on the private sector eligibility panel. That panel discussed the three types of eligible entities for broadband grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act:

  1. Government entities
  2. Non-profit organizations
  3. Other entities including private providers that the NTIA Administrator finds by rule to be in the public interest

Panelists generally agreed that private entities should be eligible, as long as the projects were sustainable, accountable and met the goals of the statute. There was some disagreement as to how "public interest" should be defined.

Goldman and National Association of Regulatory Utilities Commissioner (NARUC) representative Betty Anne Kane emphasized the important role of state and local governments to ensure that projects target resources effectively and provide additional oversight and fraud protection. Goldman went on to argue that private providers should be eligible only if they have a proven track record of performance.

Kane said:

"[The eligibility standard is fulfilled by] an entity if it is applying to serve otherwise unserved citizens - where unserved means no facilities-based Internet access other than dial-up or satellite-based access - or the entity's offering would improve the quality or affordability of broadband in an area."

Participants on the second panel on coordination between NTIA and RUS urged the two agencies to develop a user-friendly joint database between the two organizations, and, if possible, a common application. Some questioned whether this would be possible, given the two programs will operate under different statutory requirements. NARUC general counsel J. Bradford Ramsey guesstimated that thousands of applications were expected over the course of the three application periods. As a result, he recommended a strong state role in helping NTIA and RUS prioritize the applications.

The last panel of the day featured seven speakers from various organizations who have had success using broadband Internet for successful community initiatives including telemedicine and improving libraries, community colleges and schools.

Ray Ramsey of One Economy, a Speed Matters partner, advocated for programs that focus on affordable housing developers to increase in-home adoption rates.

Emily Sheketoff of the American Library Association, another Speed Matters partner, said that 60 percent of libraries in the United States have Internet connections that are too slow and 80 percent said that patrons are forced to wait in line to use the Internet. She argued that broadband stimulus fund -- which include $200 million for public computing centers such as libraries and community colleges -- should go to increase bandwidth to libraries.

After each panel there was a half hour for public comment. For those who are unable to make it to the roundtables, NTIA is accepting comments online until April 13.

Check back here for recaps of future panels.

Broadband Technology Opportunities Program - Public Meetings: Agenda and Topics (NTIA)

Economic Stimulus package a victory for Speed Matters (Speed Matters)

Coordination between NTIA and RUS spurs talk of common broadband application (Broadband Census)

Comment Form (NTIA)