Keep Your Eyes On the Broadband Prize

Between now and the Ides of March is a critical period for ensuring the $7.2 billion of broadband stimulus money produces networks that actually improve communities. During this time, NTIA in the Commerce Dept., RUS in the USDA and the FCC start gathering feedback that determines rules for who gets this money.

I plan to post details to keep you abreast on how local communities, as well as the smaller vendors and providers they’re likely to use, can shape the rules for distributing stimulus money. This will be an honest best effort to get to the people making the decisions.

The latest word

NTIA is having “open door” meetings starting March 2 for anyone who wants to come in and tell NTIA how you feel they should distribute the grants for max effect. In theory, any interested party can schedule a meeting. Since Ms Brown at the NTIA has received many more calls and e-mails than there are hours in the week, we’ll see who gets in. Call. It can’t hurt.

BIG NEWS – On March 10 at 10:00 a.m. EST in the auditorium of the Dept of Commerce building, NTIA, RUS and the FCC are jointly hosting a public meeting to discuss the bill and the grants. It’s supposed to be Webcast. They’ll take questions, so this should be a very lively event. Insightful? Maybe not so much.  Address:1401 Constitution Ave, N.W., Washington D.C. (Please enter at 14th St).

Keep an eye out for the meeting agenda at these Web sites:  http://www.ntia.doc.gov/broadbandgrants, http://www.usda.gov/rurdev (may not be live yet), http://www.fcc.gov.

 Allies

For those of us not near enough to just drop by D.C. for a chat, or already tied up for March 10, we need feet in the street to channel our issues. Here are a couple of possible channels. 

The National Association of Towns and Townships (NATaT) is a D.C.-based org that champions small towns, townships and rural communities.  Their point person agreed to carry the broadband message to a meeting next week and the March 10 meeting, as well as rally their troops. I’m sending her key points and supporting materials tomorrow (2/27).

Bingham McCutchen LLP is a D.C. law firm with a practice group that helps local governments navigate the grant maze of NTIA and RUS. Their point person will be at the March 10 meeting to be additional ears and eyes. Since Bingham’s services and mine are complementary, we’ll be helping each other get the word out.

Jim Baller is one of the key forces in municipal governments’ fight for muni networks, and a main player in the Broadband Coalition that’s working for good legislation. Get on his daily newsletter list – list@baller.com, check out his Web site – www.Baller.com.

 Another ally in the cause is Harold Feld, recently of Media Access Project. He’s on his own now consulting. His greatest value to me has been his insights to the inner workings of government behind the facades policy makers throw up. He also writes really good analysis pieces.

Action steps (what to do in the next couple of weeks)

Read the stimulus bill. It’s only 11 pages.

Watch the rules (and possible RFP) development process like a hawk.

Understand the two key things communities need in the rules for granting funds: 1) make money available directly to local governments to avoid state intervention, 2) send most of the money to private sector firms and nonprofits with clearly established local government (city, county) partnerships. Yeah, there are other issues, but lose these first two and everything else is an uphill battle. 

Focus on known sources within the sphere we need to influence (NTIA, RUS, FCC), directly or through allies. Flog the hell out of the messages above.

MOLTO IMPORTANTE – Local government or private sector company, go to Grants.gov, Get Registered and get your DUNS number and your CCR number. Without these two, you can’t be a player. Expect ALL grants (until further notice) to go through this Web site. 

Subscribe to this blog so you keep current with development. Post helpful tips, verified rumors.  

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