$1.8 Billion in New BTOP Awards Announced

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Yesterday, Vice President Biden announced the release of 94 Recovery Act investments in broadband projects across the country.  The projects are part of the BTOP program administered by the NTIA and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), created with a goal of expanding broadband access and adoption to un-served or under-served populations.   The announced investment totals $1.8 billion.

Yesterday’s announcement includes 66 grants awarded by the Commerce Department for projects to deploy broadband infrastructure, connect community anchor institutions, create and upgrade public computer centers, and encourage the adoption of broadband service.  It also includes 28 awards from USDA for broadband infrastructure and satellite projects that will provide rural residents in 16 states and Native American areas access to improved service.

The Department of Commerce awards also contain grants for public safety broadband networks designed to  improve response times and communication at the scene of emergencies.   These projects are “demonstration projects” and touted as “a head start on President Obama’s commitment to support the development of a nationwide, interoperable public safety wireless broadband network.”

In reviewing the list of awarded BTOP projects, there is heavy funding of the “middle mile” as well as support for public computing centers.

House Cuts BTOP to Fund State Aid Package

H.R. 1586, a $26 billion state aid package created to halt layoffs of educators and other state/local government employees, is being funded through cuts in the  Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), according to a post on FierceTelecom,.  Approximately $300 million is being carved out of the BTOP to fund the initiative.  It is estimated the law will rescue about 160,000 education and library jobs, though there appears to be no estimate provided of jobs lost on the broadband implementation side.

-LBB

FCC’s National Broadband Plan Released

On Tuesday, March 16, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the much-anticipated National Broadband Plan.  The plan is designed to be a roadmap for the next decade with regards to implementing broadband Internet access to unserved and under-served populations within the U.S.

While the plan itself is lengthy, there are six stated goals the FCC wishes to achieve with the implementation of this plan:

1. At least 100 million U.S. homes with affordable access to 100 megabits per second download and 50 megabits per second upload.
2. The U.S. should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the world’s fastest and most extensive wireless networks.
3. Every American should have affordable access to “robust” broadband service, and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose.
4. Every American community should have affordable access to at least 1 gigabit per second broadband service to anchor institutions (schools, hospitals and government buildings).
5. Every first responder should have access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network.
6. Every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.

While the goals of the plan are lofty, many questions remain as to whether or not the FCC can pull off the various tenets of the plan.  For example, a key proposal for funding the massive program is to reclaim a chunk of spectrum from broadcasters and re-auction these to companies offering broadband service.   Some $20 billion of spectrum auction money would have to wind its way through the labyrinth of Congress without being diverted, according to an article from the Associated Press.  

 The FCC plan also lays out a concept for overhauling the Universal Service Fund to pay for broadband instead of basic telephone service–its historical focus. The $8-billion-a-year program was originally established to subsidize telephone service in sparsely populated places.  Apparently laws must be changed to allow for the transition from telephone service to broadband.

Not surprising, early reactions from the big phone and cable companies were positive as this could mean billions of dollars to their business over the course of a decade.  Other business opportunities will certainly be spawned in the areas of installation, construction, development, even education and marketing.  It will be fascinating to watch how all this plays out as our nation addresses the building of its “highways of the future.”

All the best,

Lorin

Pentagon Loosens Policy on Use of Social Media

The Pentagon is supporting the use of social media through the easing of its policy for using social networking and other Web 2.0 sites according to an article in Government Technology.  The Department of Defense (DOD) recently released a new policy statement “for responsible and effective use of Internet-based capabilities.” It basically lifts existing bans on access to social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. Prior to this policy change, most social media sites were essentially banned due to potential national security concerns.

The policy doesn’t completely open up the Internet, however.  Pornography, gambling and other assorted “vice” sites will remain inaccessible.  The policy also allows for the temporary suspension of access in order to “safeguard missions” by “temporarily limiting access to the Internet to preserve operations security or to address bandwidth restraints”.

One interesting reason for allowing access:  lack of media coverage.  The policy will help the DOD press office distribute stories typically overlooked by the mainstream media.  Examples cited include the building of schools and hospitals in Iraq.

While the news may not have a direct effect on many government contractors, it is nevertheless interesting to see the government–particularly the DoD–struggle with issues of open access, privacy, connectedness and potential conflicts with national security.  It’s also interesting to see how government is embracing these technologies to communicate its own messages, a testament to their power.  Products and services that help solve this problem will get attention and funding.  Look for more examples of loosening reigns on technology (and possibly more examples of problems this creates).

All the best,

Lorin

FCC Discusses Key Component of Funding Upcoming Broadband Plan

The FCC will propose creating a $4.6 billion fund to support the penetration of high-speed Internet service into underserved areas.  The initiative would replace a similar program that currently falls underneath the $8 billion federal Universal Service Fund.  This fund was originally designed to reduce the costs of phone service for certain eligible citizens and help fund high-speed infrastructure for schools, libraries and rural hospitals according to an article in NextGov.

FCC officials outlined a plan to move the USF away from traditional telephone subsidies and toward exclusive support of broadband. The proposal will be a key component of the agency’s national broadband plan due out March 16, 2010.  The FCC said these changes can be accomplished without Congressional intervention, but the broadband plan will nevertheless recommend Congress approve a $9 billion appropriation (over three years) that would enable the FCC to accelerate the fund’s shift in focus.

All the best,

Lorin

 

FCC Asks Congress for Extension to Deadline for National Broadband Plan

On Thursday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski formally asked Congressional lawmakers for a 1-month extension to the deadline for submitting of National Broadband Plan.  Such a push in the deadline was expected by many, but was strongly dismissed earlier in November by the FCC.  The national broadband plan, when released, will be a strategic vision for expanding broadband capabilities and enhancing broadband adoption of under-served populations.

The main reason cited for the delay was the “unprecedented” volume of comments from the public (and most certainly government contractors) surrounding the plan.  “Apparently the volume of public comments submitted to the commission will require a longer period for review that the original schedule for formulating the national broadband plan permitted,” House Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., said in a written response.

Other political leaders on the Senate Commerce Committee don’t seem to mind the delay, assuming the extra time adds value to the end product. “Chairman Genachowski has indicated that a short delay is necessary to qualitatively improve the plan. I support his efforts,” Rockefeller said in a statement, according to an article on nextgov.com.

The move is not surprising given the volume of work involved and the relatively few resources available to the FCC at the beginning of the project.  More than likely, this will be the last delay (otherwise they would have asked for more time) and we’ll see a plan in the next month.  It will certainly be interesting to see what business opportunities arise from the increased focus and possible expanded funding for making the plan a reality.  Stay tuned for more.

All the best,

Lorin

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