The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Rural Development (RUS), and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a meeting on Tuesday to discuss how they would coordinate the dispersal of economic stimulus money for broadband projects.
At the meeting, the three groups announced that there would likely be three rounds of grant disbursements, with the first one coming between April and June of this year, the second coming between October and December and then the last coming between April and June of 2010. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act requires that all moneys set aside for broadband be allocated before September 30, 2010.
Bernadette McGuire-Rivera, an NTIA Administrator who spoke at the event said:
"[The disbursement of broadband funds is] going to have to happen very fast. Everyone needs to work together to make sure we do this and we get it right."
The event was moderated by Senior NTIA Advisor Mark Seifert and included speakers such as FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Acting Chief of Staff Rick Wade.
The emphasis of the panel was on five goals of the broadband program:
- Close the broadband gap in unserved and underserved areas
- Leverage private investment
- Create jobs
- Upgrade connectivity to schools, libraries and other community anchor institutions
- Stimulate broadband demand
Copps spoke about the goals of the program:
"This will be a truly inclusive process. The goal of our national strategy must be to bring value-laden high-speed broadband to all citizens, no matter who they are or where they live... 'All must mean everyone'."
The event was well attended, as the room filled to standing room only capacity and was viewed by at least 1600 viewers online watching the webcast.
At the end of the meeting, the floor was opened up to comments from the audience. The first question came from Speed Matters Debbie Goldman, who urged the agencies to keep the focus on the central goal of the stimulus package: creating good jobs in this time of economic downturn.
This will not be the last meeting held by the three organizations in charge of doling out broadband stimulus money. They will hold six roundtables seeking input on how to implement the funds. They will be held at the Commerce Department in Washington DC on March 16, 19, 23 and 24 at 10am, in Las Vegas on March 17 and in Flagstaff, AZ on March 18.
If you cannot attend any of the roundtables the NTIA and RUS have jointly asked for comments on how to dole out broadband money. Comments are due by April 13. The agencies are seeking guidance on such questions as the role of the states, critera for grant awards, implementation, coordination, benchmarks for success, and definitions of terms such as "unserved," "underserved", and "interconnection and nondiscrimination" obligations.