Do We Really Need a $350 Million Broadband Mapping Program?

Last week, the NTIA asked the FCC to release an important database containing broadband coverage data.  The database contains information from high-speed internet providers on the areas they serve based on data collected through a required FCC form (Form 477).  This form collects information about broadband connections (among other things)  to end-user locations  in individual states.

According to a post on www.broadbandbreakfast.com, the FCC intends to release the database by December 7, 2009 unless it receives significant opposition from the carriers.  See the public notice here.

The NTIA says it wants access to the data in order to “validate the unserved or underserved classifications of the BTOP applicants’ proposed funded service areas,” although it also vows to protect certain confidential “trade secret” information to the degree it is able.

This request raises certain “chicken and egg” questions with regards to validating “underserved areas”–the focus of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).  $350 million was originally allocated to create and maintain a comprehensive national broadband map.  This, in theory, would tell NTIA strategist where to focus efforts and resources.

However, the mapping project will not be completed until late 2010 (or later).  And the NTIA must publish a national broadband strategy plan by the first quarter of 2010.  As such, the NTIA is seeking to rely on this FCC/carrier information to help guide its decisions.

This means, either the NTIA will be making national broadband strategy decisions based on grossly incomplete information, or it will receive sufficient information on coverage from the carriers through this database and the $350 million is an unnecessary expense.  Either conclusion puts the NTIA in a difficult spot.

It will be interesting to see how the carriers respond to this request.  And it will be even more interesting to see what the NTIA decides to fund early in the new year.  Stay tuned for new developments as they arise.

All the best,

-Lorin

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Thanksgiving for Customers

This week, our nation celebrates an annual tradition of expressing thankfulness for our many individual blessings.  In thinking about this, I’m reminded how we should also not forget to infuse an “attitude of gratitude”  in dealing with our customers.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, one often sees companies sending best wishes to customers in the form of small gifts and goodies.  However, when dealing with government customers, this is generally not allowed, even in small amounts.

So how do you say “thank you” without breaking any rules?  Here are a few suggestions not limited to a single season of the year:

Send a handwritten note. I confess my utter hypocrisy in making this suggestion.  However, it is clearly an underutilized and meaningful way to express gratitude to customers (I feel a New Year’s resolution coming on).  In our world of email and text-messaging, an actual signature is a rare and beautiful thing.

Send nuggets of helpful information throughout the year. This is not a difficult task and doesn’t cost a thing.  The form of a newsletter is OK, but even better is a personal email with links to specific and helpful information.  It lets customers know you’re thinking about them and their unique needs.

Give customers exclusive access to important product or company information prior to its public release (if possible). As a way of saying thanks for being a “Silver Member” customer, I just received an email from Best Buy giving me access to the Black Friday electronics specials before they’re released to the general public.  Good stuff.  I feel appreciated and will most likely take advantage of the opportunity.  While this is not completely applicable to government procurement, the principle remains the same.  Look for ways of sharing internal information (product releases, training opportunities, etc.) to customers in a special or exclusive way as a means for making them feel appreciated (NOTE:  Please make sure this is an approved corporate program–I’m not suggesting you share any insider corporate secrets.)

Follow up. Many times, we as salespeople are guilty of “hit and runs.”  We make a sale, then run to the next prospect, leaving customers feeling abandoned and under-appreciated.  Even if you must hand-off the account to a customer relations department, take the time to follow up on how the project implementation is going or call to see how satisfied the customer is with your product or service.  Such interest shows sincere appreciation and concern for maintaining a long-term relationship.

In between stuffing your face with turkey and napping between ballgames this week, renew your commitment to showing customers your appreciation.  Chances are, there will be even more to be thankful for next year if you do.

Happy Thanksgiving—oh, and thanks to all our valued customers and blog readers! (Now what did I do with that stationery…)

–LBB

Broadband Grant Award Date Gets Pushed. Second NOFA Expected in January

The Broadband grants are slipping.  In a report issued this week, the  NTIA has extended the review period for first round grants and is now targeting December 2009 to begin making awards (it originally expected to have all first-round awards made by the end of the year).  It now expects to make first-round awards by February 2010.

The NTIA has received 2,200 first-round applications totaling nearly $28 billion in funding requests–almost seven times the amount of current funding available .

NTIA and RUS also announced recently they will limit grant awards to only one more funding round (they originally anticipated three rounds).  The Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA) for this second round is expected to be released some time in January 2010.

As for the mapping program, NTIA has awarded 15 grants “to fund two years of broadband availability collection and verification activities, and up to five years of broadband planning activities in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, District of Columbia, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.”  These awards sum to almost $28 million.

By law, all BTOP funds must be awarded by September 30, 2010, with expectations that all projects be complete by September 30, 2012.

-LBB

Improper Payments to Federal Contractors Rise Sharply. What Will it Mean for Vendors?

Improper payments by federal agencies has increased 36% in the past year according to an article in Government Executive.  Improper payments increased to $98 billion in FY 2009  up from $72 billion in FY 2008.   Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director, Peter Orszag said the increase was caused by better measurement of improper payments, and increased federal expenditures due to the stimulus.

A large portion of the increase came from programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.  However other departments also contributed to this growth including the Department of Homeland Security.

It is expected that President Obama will issue an executive order sometime next week to include three components for addressing these improper payments:  “increased transparency and public participation, accountability at the agency level and incentives for compliance.”  Agencies will be expected to reduce improper payments on a year-over-year basis (currently they are only required to track these numbers).

IMPLICATIONS FOR CONTRACTORS

Currently, vendors receiving accidental overpayments (and discovered by the government) are only required to pay back the government without interest or penalties.  The new executive order is expected to subject contractors to suspensions, fines and other penalties if contractors do not disclose overpayments.  

-LBB

 

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Is Another Stimulus Package Around the Corner?

Is another stimulus package on the horizon?  The Obama administration will not acknowledge its plans for this, but James Pethokoukis of Reuters says watch out for Stimulus 2.0 (or 3.0 depending on how you look at it) coming in January.  In a blog today, Pethokoukis says the recently announced “jobs summit” to be held at the White House next month is likely to include planning for a second stimulus to be unveiled in Obama’s State of the Union address in January.

According to Alec Phillips of Goldman Sachs, conservative estimates of the dollar magnitude of the package would be $250 billion over three years.  Pethokoukis says to look for more highway spending, more aid to state and local governments and a business hiring tax credit.  He also suggests it won’t be labeled as a “stimulus plan” but will carry some other moniker instead.

-LBB

“Digital Cities” Survey Shows Trends in Local IT Initiatives

The Center for Digital Government has just released its annual Survey of Cities exploring how municipalities are using information technology to better serve citizens.  According to a post on govtech.com that analyzes the report, cities are reaching out to a wider range of citizens through technology, and are becoming increasingly concerned about their environmental impact.  Findings from the survey include:

Online Self-service

  • 82 percent of respondents have webcasts — streamed audio and video, live and archived
  • 74 percent have RSS feeds (up 21 percent over last year)

Citizen Participation and Transparency

  • 87 percent have city government body meeting minutes available online, archived and searchable
  • 73 percent conduct online surveys or polls
  • 57 percent have podcasts (a 26 percent increase over last year)
  • 67 percent have blogs (a 37 percent increase over last year)
  • 62 percent have microblogs (such as Twitter)
  • 64 percent use social networks (such as Facebook and MySpace)

Environment Sustainability

  • 85 percent have done data center consolidation and virtualization
  • 45 percent have established metrics and installed instruments to measure energy efficiencies
  • 66 percent use e-waste recycling efforts and earth-friendly disposal

Cities were selected for their IT leadership as it relates to citizens.  Winning cities in each population category include:

Corpus Christi, TX (250,000+ population)
Nifty projects:
-Automated gas and electricity meter reading with online billing
-Police car video surveillance and online storage
-Document management

Santa Monica, California (75,000 – 124,999 population)
Nifty projects:
-Traffic signal synchronization through fiber-optic network
-Wireless app showing available parking spots

Flower Mound, Texas (30,000 – 74,999 population)
Nifty projects:
-Fiber optic network that reduced operating expenditures by $150,000
-Extensive use of social media
-IT energy-saving initiatives

 -LBB