Washington

Broadband $ Not Redundant, Says Advisor

NTIA’s Strickling: government will also share spectrum 8/23/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Spectrum Fee Specter Fades?

It is looking more likely that broadcasters will once again avoid the dreaded “spectrum fee,” even though its latest incarnation was hitched to the broadband express.

Administration budgets have for years have included the fee, which Congress has always excised. But the fee got new legs in the context of the national broadband plan as an incentive to move broadcasters off their spectrum.

The first spectrum-clearing bill proposed by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) included the fee, which broadcasters were quick to point out did not square with the “voluntary” in the FCC spectrum-clearing proposal. But the next two bills, including one from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D- W.Va.), make no mention of the fee. And even better for broadcasters, both bills go out of their way to give the FCC clearer direction on what “voluntary” should mean.
John Eggerton

Obama Administration telecom policy
advisor and NTIA Administrator Lawrence
Strickling says his agency will meet an Oct. 1 deadline for a report on how it
will team with the FCC to help find 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband,
as well as for handing out the bulk of its $4.7 billion in broadband stimulus
grants. (NTIA still had about $2.5 billion of its $4.7 billion to hand out at
presstime.)

In an interview with B&C
Washington Bureau Chief John Eggerton, Strickling defends criticisms that some
of that money may be going to overbuild broadband service already being
provided by cable operators. He also assures broadcasters that government users
would be hit up for their share of the 500 MHz of spectrum needed for
commercial broadband services. An edited transcript follows.

In an interview with B&C, NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow used the
term "disaster" in reference to the broadband stimulus funding, saying some of
the funding is going to overbuilding services already being provided by private
investment.

He's wrong. It may just reflect not a complete understanding of our
program and our goals under the statute. One was to expand broadband to
un-served and under-served areas. An equally important priority was to meet the
needs of anchor institutions, including schools, libraries, hospitals and state
government. We also have a separate purpose on public safety.

But if Kyle is saying we should only have focused on un-served
households, that was never what the Recovery Act stood for. It was never part
of our mission as we saw it. We viewed our mission as simply to reward money to
projects where we could meet the greatest level of need. That is the way we
have gone at this in all the projects that we have awarded. Anchor institutions
have a much different set of needs from businesses and residences, and that is
reflected in the awards that we have given.

You say "we" have to come up with 500 MHz, so you include the FCC. How
much do you have to come up with on the government side?

That has not yet been determined. We're going to look at probably 2,000
MHz of spectrum, federal, nonfederal and shared. How it breaks out at the end
between federal and nonfederal, I couldn't predict.

Is it possible that if you freed up more on the government side, maybe
broadcasters might have to free up less than the 120 MHz target?

It would be premature to speculate on that.

What would you say to broadcasters worried that the DOD could just
invoke national security and keep their spectrum, and the burden could fall
more on them?

I would tell federal agencies and existing commercial licensees that
this is going to be a thorough and full analysis, and we are looking for
spectrum from both sets of interests. We will be as fair and thorough as we
can.

But
everybody's spectrum is on the table?

Yes.

How are you monitoring the
broadband stimulus grant program for compliance as well as waste and fraud to
make sure it isn't actually going to people who shouldn't be getting it? Will
the $302 million you had rescinded as part of the teacher pay package affect
that?

 No, that $302 million is unrelated.

Before
we make grant awards, we give proposals a top-to-bottom review to ensure that
taxpayer dollars are invested prudently. But we still need to perform thorough
oversight of the projects as they are being implemented. We are hopeful that we
will get the dollars in the 2011 budget to perform that oversight
responsibility. We have a whole program planned out that involves reporting by
the applicants and having program officers assigned to each of these projects
that will include audits, site visits and whatever else to stay on top of the
progress of these grants as they go forward. As for the repurposed funds, that
only accounts for a small portion of the billions of dollars we are investing
in broadband, and it doesn't change the need to oversee this investment so that
it delivers all the intended benefits to the public.

But that funding is at risk?

That budget has not been passed yet, but two subcommittees that
have looked at that request up on the Hill both have not approved funding at
the $23.7 million level. We think it is critical we be funded at that level to
have the ability to provide the level of oversight these projects will require.

What is the status of NTIA's broadband stimulus grant program and
when do you have to hand out your last grants?

We have a statutory deadline for Sept. 30. As of today we are on
track to get all of that money out by the end of September.

Where are you in the broadband inventory process and how can you
be sure you are not overbuilding if you don't yet know where all that broadband
is?

That question has been with us since the beginning of the program
and the fact of the matter is that we looked at each project based on the
information they supply. We also have information that each of the states has
supplied us about where there areas of need are. Many of the states actually
reviewed the applications themselves and recommended some applications. We take
that into account.

Carriers who offer service in the areas also supplied information
to us so we had that available as we looked at it.  And we also insisted
the applicant provide information from, in particular, the anchor institutions
that they intend to serve with their project and understand their level of
need.

One of the things we found is that the fact that there may be one
megabit DSL service to homes in a community in no way tells you whether or not
the anchor institutions, who generally have much more substantial bandwidth
needs are being adequately served. And we have taken that into account.

Let's turn to spectrum reclamation for a moment. What are the
NTIA's marching orders and what do you have to deliver by Oct. 1?

It all flows out of the executive memorandum. There are four work
flows. First and foremost is finding the 500 Mhz. By Oct. 1, we have been
directed to providing a plan and a timetable as to how we will conduct that
analysis, which will lead to 500 mHz being identified that within 10 years can
be made available for commercial broadband services.

We were separately asked to look at a handful of bands that don't
involve any relocation of federal operations but to determine whether there
were opportunities to make some of that available for commercial broadband.

Also as part of the October plan, OMB is supposed to provide
information and a plan for how they can provide the financial assistance to
federal agencies who might incur expenses related to either the reallocation or
relocation. And then the fourth work flow is the directive to work with the
National Science Foundation and other government agencies to come up with a
plan for research and development in spectrum sharing. That does not have an
Oct. 1 deadline, but the previous three items will be done by Oct. 1.

What you will see Oct. 1 will be a report from us regarding these
fast-track bands. You will see a larger plan and timetable to do a larger
evaluation to find the the 500 Mhz within 10 years, and you will also see OMB's
plan for providing assistance.

As an advisor, would you tell the FCC to proceed with Title II
reclassification or should Congress step in?

I don't have an opinion on that. Our view of it is that we want a
free and open Internet and we are happy to see any number of processes that
might get us there.

Part of NTIA's charter is advising the administration on Internet
governance. What is your take on the Google/Verizon principles?

I haven't really had a chance to study it in any detail, but
obviously on the larger issue on net neutrality the administration has been
strong from the start that we support and open internet. We support innovation,
investment, free speech, and consumer choice and we would certainly like to see
that reflected in whatever action comes out of the process at the FCC.

E-mail comments to jeggerton@nbmedia.com
and follow him on Twitter: @eggerton

Spectrum Fee Specter Fades?

It is looking more likely that broadcasters will once again avoid the dreaded “spectrum fee,” even though its latest incarnation was hitched to the broadband express.

Administration budgets have for years have included the fee, which Congress has always excised. But the fee got new legs in the context of the national broadband plan as an incentive to move broadcasters off their spectrum.

The first spectrum-clearing bill proposed by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) included the fee, which broadcasters were quick to point out did not square with the “voluntary” in the FCC spectrum-clearing proposal. But the next two bills, including one from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D- W.Va.), make no mention of the fee. And even better for broadcasters, both bills go out of their way to give the FCC clearer direction on what “voluntary” should mean.
John Eggerton

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