Broadband Stimulus Update from the Assistant Secretary

Thu, October 28, 2010 by Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling

Now that all the broadband stimulus grants have been awarded I’d like to spend a few moments discussing what we’ve accomplished and what lies ahead. In less than 20 months, NTIA built a multi-billion dollar grant program from the ground up. This is the largest grant program that NTIA has ever managed and is one of the largest ever managed at the Department of Commerce. We had to hire staff, build the information systems, develop the rules, perform due diligence on the proposals, and award over $4 billion in grants, all before this past September 30. At every step of the way, we solved the challenges that arose, we answered the skeptics who said we would never get the money out, and ended up with what I think is a very solid set of sustainable projects that will not only expand broadband access and adoption but will also lead to economic growth and job creation. These projects will also continue to pay dividends far into the future in the form of improved education and health care, heightened innovation, and long-term local, national, and global economic growth.

Let me summarize our portfolio of projects. We funded four types of projects: infrastructure, public computer centers, sustainable broadband adoption projects, and state broadband data and development initiatives. These projects reach every state and territory and will:

    • Fund the construction or upgrade of approximately 120,000 miles of broadband networks.
    • Provide broadband access to approximately 24,000 community anchor institutions, including schools, libraries, government offices, health care facilities, and public safety entities. Of these, approximately:
      • 3,000 are healthcare entities, including hospitals, clinics, and physicians’ offices
      • 5,000 are public safety entities, such as first responders, fire, police, and EMS
      • 7,000 are K-12 schools
      • 600 are community colleges
      • 2,000 are libraries
      • 5,000 are government facilities, such as City and County offices, workforce centers, Head Start locations, and other entities providing important benefits to the public
      • 700 are other institutions of higher education, including public universities
  • Deploy middle mile infrastructure in areas with nearly 40 million households and 4 million businesses, many of which will benefit from new or improved broadband service provided by last-mile providers that are able to utilize the new, open infrastructure to extend or upgrade their service for consumer and business customers.
  • Invest in more than 3,500 new or upgraded public computer centers in libraries, schools, community centers and other public locations.
  • Invest in more than 35,000 new or upgraded public computer workstations.
  • Make public computer center workstations and training available to more than 1 million new users.

In addition, our grants to the states will support statewide broadband planning and implementation efforts as well as efforts to collect and verify data on broadband availability, which will be used for the national broadband map which we will release next February.

Overall, I am very pleased with our portfolio of projects. I am most proud of the fact that all of these projects emanated from the communities in which they will be built and carried out. The level of public and private involvement in determining what project would best meet the needs of the applicant communities was most heartening and offers some hope that we have started a dialogue in our local communities and states that can lead to effective partnerships even without additional federal grant money.

I am also very pleased that our sustainable adoption projects will give us a great opportunity to test what programs will help to improve adoption among the various communities that have been slow to sign up for broadband service. There have been lots of surveys as to the reasons people give for not subscribing. This is the first opportunity on a large scale to see what types of programs will actually move the needle on subscribership.

While we have come very far in a very short time, our work is really just beginning. We have now pivoted to provide vigorous oversight of these projects over the next three years to ensure they are completed on schedule, within budget, and deliver the promised benefits to the communities they serve.

Earlier this month our program made some news concerning our funding to manage and oversee the broadband grants. Let me update you on where we are. NTIA, as all government agencies, entered the new fiscal year on October 1 operating pursuant to a continuing resolution passed by Congress. The continuing resolution establishes a temporary budget to support government operations. This is not unusual, nor is the fact that the continuing resolution simply extends the final budget that Congress had adopted the previous year. However, through a budgeting quirk, our authorized spending level between now and December 3 includes zero dollars to manage and oversee the broadband grants program even though the President’s budget for FY2011 includes $24 million for the program. OMB has authorized us to continue to operate the program on the assumption Congress will include money for this program when it eventually passes a budget, so we are operating pretty much normally for the time being. However, we are now working closely with Congress and the White House to secure this necessary funding before the end of the year. We are assuring our grantees that we will do everything possible to avoid disruptions and interruptions to the program, and we are hopeful we will get Congressional action to resolve this issue before the end of the year.

Although managing this program continues to present unique challenges, it also offers unprecedented learning opportunities for broadband policymaking going forward.

For example, a key challenge for NTIA will be to assimilate information and best practices from our grantees and make them broadly available. Many of our sustainable broadband adoption and public computer center projects will be developing or utilizing digital literacy course materials. At NTIA, we would like to assemble and evaluate these materials—perhaps we can create a digital literacy portal on our website to provide digital literacy training directly to people who want to learn about how to use digital technology.

Similarly, many of our projects are creating prototype digital literacy training teams, utilizing high school students, college students, or community residents. We hope to take the best of these ideas and create a toolkit that could be used by states, municipalities, or even a local library that wants to create its own digital literacy corps. In both of these efforts, we will team with other agencies, particularly the Education Department, to pair their expertise with ours to develop a high-quality program.

These projects will deliver the benefits of broadband to communities across the country, create jobs and lay the groundwork for long-term sustainable economic growth. We look forward to highlighting how BTOP projects are connecting communities and advancing education, healthcare, and other key sectors as we move forward.

Excerpt taken from remarks delivered at the Federal Communications Bar Association Luncheon in Washington, DC on October 21, 2010

Read the full text of the speech here: www.ntia.doc.gov/presentations/2010/fcba_10212010.html

BTOP administration lacks transparency

I remain unimpressed with the lack of transparency in the BTOP process. This process has raised numerous questions yet responses from NTIA have been slow and evasive. Even now, the NTIA has failed to update its own database to indicate the status of all applications. If you want to boast about "completing" a gargantuan program, then it should take little time to update your database to indicate which applications received funding and which were denied funding. NTIA's failure to do this suggests there is still hope for certain applications, even after numerous public pronouncements that all the monies have been awarded. Certainly, this is not consistent with the promise of "unprecedented government transparency" that candidate Obama promised.

Disapointed to say the least

Spent hours and days trying to muddle through the application process, encountering frustration after frustration. It was a disaster. I have come to the conclusion that if the administration would have divided the TOTAL available committed stimulus dollars by every tax payer in the country, it would have provided every taxpayer approximately $50,000 each. Regardless of how the public spent the funds it would have stimulated the economy, even if it was all used for a trip to Vegas. The majority of the money awarded went to long time NITA crony's or state agencies who we know will be successful at managing large Broadband Infrastructure Projects, Yeah, Sure. We are currently 19th in the world in broadband access per citizen. We will probably be 20th after this disaster.

Lack of Transparency, Part 2

NTIA needs to post more information about the winning applications, including more details about their plans and a map (or list of census tracts) for their service area(s). RUS has done this, and NTIA did it for Round 1 (with respect to the service areas). We need to see what we are getting for the broadband stimulus monies.

Satellite Internet in rural California?

As an installer and retailer for a Satellite Internet, I am unable to find any customers qualified for Recovery Act Funds in my zip code service area (95667), even though the funds have been awarded. I am told there is a data base where "eligible" residents are listed but is hidden some place and it will be updated on a regular basis. All of my customers have no other access to the Internet other than dial-up or Satellite due to their remote locations. I would like to know the contact for updating the data base to include "known" consumers who lack terrestrial access due to geographical obstacles. Your comments would be appreciated. Thank you for getting this program underway--it's been a long time coming.

Unused funds & unserved rural areas

Since only $4 billion of the $7 billion allocated were actually awarded, it would be truly helpful if the $3 billion balance is awarded to areas & communities that didn't know the grants were available until it was too late to apply. Using a more efficient grant mechanism (for example, the very flexible "Omnibus" unsolicited grant app process) would be very helpful as well. There seems to be little reason to make the application and disbursement processes overly complicated and difficult for rural community orgs that are already suffering extreme hardships while under-funded, under-staffed and, in many cases, over worked & over-stressed. The benefits & potentials of the program are clear. It's not like the outcomes will be disappointing or problematic for the NTIA. In fact, it seems self-evident that greater distribution of the $3 billion (to all the rural communities left out in Round 1 & 2) will generate a large majority of success stories with great PR value for the NTIA, DOC, USDA, etc.

Where is the DATA BASE for eligible residents for internet ?mmm

Does anyone know where the Data Base can be found for the eligable resident in remota areas that need internet ?

I too am unable to find out

I too am unable to find out if eligible. The search apparently requires a US postal delivery address, which we do not have where residence is. We can only get service via a satellite connection, how can we find out if we can benefit from the program?

Stimulus Update

I noticed talk of a Digital Literacy initiative toward the end of the Assistant Secretary's post on October 28. Could you post more information about this... thanks. What's accomplished? When will the portal launch? Who's involved? How can others get involved?

Money from Government to Government (with love)

I would like to reiterate the disappointment of the "common citizen", i.e the many private entities and entrepreneurs who submitted applications for this program. At least 90%+ of the moneys went to state agencies and other government related entities. With the level of efficiency that local government entities go through taxpayer's money...i am sure that most of the 4 Billion will be very rapidly vaporized, while the people it was supposed to benefit will be, as usual, be left with very little results. The moneys will, of course, and in the short-term only, help sustain the big budgets and large number of employees of many a local government entity. It will not help the many institutions and individuals in the private sector, who actually generate the tax dollars to pay for these programs

policing the grants

if you know someone filed a fraudulent application who do you complain to?? Or does anywone even care in Washington?? The USDA really made a mess of this several years back and here we go again.

Satellite Internet

Hughes Satellite received a stimulus grant to provide satellite internet to people in my area, upstate New York who have no access to broadband Internet. I clearly qualify. Our phone company, Verizon, has ignored requests to provide DSL. Time Warner Cable has not covered the whole area township. We have only marginal cell phone reception especially from Verizon.

Seeing that I clearly qualify for the satellite service under the Recovery Grant to Hughes, I called. However, after repeated requests I am told that my address does not qualify. I have a Westport, NY mailing address but do not live in Westport. The Westport telephone company does provide DSL but it does not cover my area.

The people at Hughes are unable or unwilling to tell me how to correct this situation. What is the solution?

BTOP in Action

A plowing and trenching crew installs fiber in a wooded area. MCNC

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue left an MCNC-sponsored groundbreaking on October 8, 2010, with a...

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