States Play Key Role in National Broadband Plan

State eNews Issue #42 | March 17, 2010

Communication and cooperation among federal agencies and states are essential to the success of a national broadband plan, which the Federal Communications Commission released March 16.

That was the message Irene Flannery of the FCC and Cynthia Schulz of the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration delivered at the National Association of State Technology Directors southern region seminar in Charleston, S.C., March 1. The association is an affiliate of The Council of State Governments.

The FCC was charged with developing a national broadband plan as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided $7.2 billion for broadband development in rural and underserved areas.

The national plan will include reform of the Universal Service Fund to accommodate broadband in rural and underserved areas, according to Flannery, acting associate chief of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau. Most of the $8 billion available annually from the fund typically has been allocated to traditional telecom phone services. The FCC is now turning its attention to increasing that funding for expanding broadband services. 

But Flannery said the FCC cannot make this happen on its own and the states must make their voices heard by participating in the FCC’s comment period. To date, the FCC has issued more than 30 public notices seeking comment on the development of the national broadband plan, including reform of the Universal Service Fund. 

Flannery couldn’t discuss specific details of the plan before its release, but said it is a starting point and is strategic in nature. There will be additional notices of proposed rulemaking and comment proceedings in which the states can participate.  Flannery stressed that the FCC relies on the states to relate their specific experiences to make the best decisions possible.

Advancement of broadband in rural and underserved areas is being aided by $4.7 billion made available through the Recovery Act. The distribution of those funds presents challenges, said  Schultz, director of Compliance and Audits for the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.  She said the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program is “a program with a limited shelf life,” and states will play a pivotal role in its success to ensure the projects are executed in a timely and transparent manner.

The first round of that program funding included grants for last-mile and middle-mile projects, but Schultz indicated that the second and final round of funding will focus mostly on middle-mile projects—to those communities lacking sufficient broadband access. Last-mile projects connect end users such as homes, hospitals and schools to the community broadband infrastructure.

Schultz said the goal of the program is to develop broadband in areas where the private sector does not find it profitable to invest.  Additionally, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program will focus on community anchor institutions such as libraries.  She said it is important for governors to endorse their state’s application for funding requests.

Each state is guaranteed at least one grant from the broadband funding, and Schultz said her agency will work with the states to ensure the success of funded projects.


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