Broadband Stimulus Update from the Assistant Secretary

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: