NTIA head Larry Strickling has suggested that if an incumbent wants to veto a stimulus grant in its territory, the data it uses to show the area is served will be on the public record. As this is a step in the direction of making such information public, it is good. However, there is still no clear method of appealing such a veto.
Craig Settles has called for letters to the NTIA asking for a deadline extension for the first round of grant applications. Muniwireless.com published a commentary explaining why a delay is a good idea.
West Virginia, one of the most-underserved states by broadband providers, is starting to worry much of the state may not qualify for broadband funds according to the Charleston Daily Mail. Unfortunately, they are relying on data from the industry-backed Connected Nation operation, so who knows? Being so heavily influenced by incumbents, Connected Nation significantly overstates existing coverage.
However, the story is interesting in pointing out that the approach taken by NTIA will not result in sustainable network. Because network deployers must stick to the areas of least density, they have no revenue base with which to cover operating costs. Once the stimulus money goes away, one wonders how many of these networks will fold -- though NTIA has claimed that networks must demonstrate fiscal viability after the grants run out.
Champaign-Urbana is planning a fiber network contingent on stimulus funds. They have had to scale back plans for the network due to the stringent definition for "underserved." Illinois has set aside $50 million to help Illinois applicants as each applicant must provide 20% of the project cost to qualify under stimulus rules. The project will fund connections to the home in 11 census blocks that are currently underserved...
I have been digesting the NOFA (the rules for broadband stimulus projects) and I am stunned at just how much I disagree with them. I think the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a branch of the Department of Commerce in D.C., and the Rural Utilities Service have really done a disservice to this country.
Before I highlight some commentaries that I have found most interesting thus far, I want to note that this is why we take a bottom-up approach. In talking to many people working on community networks, most everyone is frustrated and the rest are really angry. It sure seemed like the feds were heading in the right direction, but the broadband stimulus rules show just how out of touch they are. We advise communities to find ways of being self-reliant. If they are able to get help from D.C., that is great; but they should never depend upon it.
We will have some more details of our reaction to the rules soon, but for now I wanted to highlight some of the folks that reacted quickly and offered interesting thoughts.
Starting on the positive side, Andrew Cohill at Design Nine thinks the encouragement for open access networks and transparency could ultimately be the defining characteristic.
This means networks that offer competitive pricing from more than one provider get preference--this is huge, and could have important long term consequences.
The rules also do something else quite important on the same page (page 66, line 1463), where there is explicit preference for open access transport, which in telecom jargon is "interconnection." The rules say that companies that post their interconnection fees publicly and agree to nondiscrimination will get preference.
If he is correct, the implications are great. However, the rules certainly could have demanded open access as a condition of public money being used rather than a limited form of extra credit for those who will encourage competition in a market suffering the utter lack of it.
Harold Feld, who rightly noted that good people struggled and worked on this, saw both positives and negatives in the rules. He defends the "broadband" speed definition from the FCC (768kbps down and 200kbps up):
I am in the minority in thinking they played this right. There are too many good projects...