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Notes from March 23, 2009, Meeting on Broadband Initiatives in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

The topics for discussion at the March 23 joint FCC-NTIA-RUS meeting were nondiscrimination and interconnection, the role of the states, and broadband mapping.

Nondiscrimination and Interconnection

  • Focus on accountability; no blank checks.
  • Open access; ability of rural areas to connect to infrastructure.
  • Need for public networks.
  • Need for network neutrality.
  • Need for wider participation by all types of entities in rural America.
  • Need for wireless mesh networks in extremely rural areas.

Role of the States

  • Mixed viewpoints—some favored strong state participation, including the ranking of projects, selection of projects, and utilizing state bid and procurement procedures.
  • Which state agency would be the main player (the governor's office, the state PUC/PSC, a broadband task force or other organization)?
  • Some panelists stated the state role should be consultative only—states should not have approval or ranking authority.
  • Concern was expressed that state politics could play a role in the selection process.
  • Concern was expressed that states may favor incumbent providers.
  • Generally, all agreed that the states have a role to play—but the degree of that role was left open for discussion.
  • In the public comment section following the panel discussion, there were many comments indicating that the state role should be consultative and collaborative only, and that the states should not be part of the grant-selection process.

Broadband Mapping

  • There was discussion on whether the overall mapping process should be completed before grant approvals for infrastructure deployment projects are awarded.
  • The grant timelines do not allow for mapping to be completed before grants are awarded.
  • Strong concerns were expressed that rural, unserved, and underserved areas would not be adequately mapped.
  • There was discussion that mapping should be undertaken by a public agency in partnership with private and other types of organizations.
  • Baseline information needs to be uniform across all the states, driven by new federal guidelines.

All the workshops in this series were designed to provide input to the agencies for consideration in the development of their grant and loan guidelines.  Both agencies are accepting additional written comments through April 13, 2009. All comments coming from these workshops, as well as the written comments, will become part of the public record used by the agencies in establishing their program guidelines. The role of both NTIA and RUS in this process was strictly information gathering and, as such, no direct feedback was provided by either agency.