News

Obama Adviser Backs Broadband Stimulus Growth

8/23/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

Lawrence Strickling, the Obama
administration’s telecommunications
policy adviser and administrator of the
Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications
Information Administration,
spoke with Multichannel News
Washington bureau chief John Eggerton
about broadband stimulus funding and
other topics.

MCN: What is the status of the NTIA’s
broadband-stimulus grant program, and
when do you have to hand out your last
grants? [NTIA still had about $2.5 billion of
its $4.7 billion to hand out at press time.]

Lawrence Strickling: 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.

MCN: National Cable & Telecommunications
Association president Kyle McSlarrow
used the term “disaster” in reference to the
broadband-stimulus funding. While he said
there were meritorious awards being given
out, he also said that despite those good
intentions, some of it is going to overbuilding
services already being provided by
private investment.

LS: He’s wrong. These are all good projects
in BTOP (the Broadband Technology Opportunities
Program). I think that it may just reflect maybe not a complete understanding
of our program and what our goals are under
the statute.

Under the statute, we have a number of
purposes. One was to expand broadband to
unserved and underserved 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 relating to
public safety.

But if what Kyle is saying is that we should
only have focused on unserved 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 the businesses and residences,
and that is reflected in the awards that
we have given.

MCN: 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?

LS: 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 to us about where their
areas of need are. Many of the states actually
reviewed the applications themselves
and recommended some applications. We
take that into account.

Carriers who of fer
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 1-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.

MCN: Part of the NTIA’s charter is advising
the administration on Internet governance.
What is your take on the seven Internetgovernance
principles agreed to by Google
and Verizon Communications?

LS: 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 an 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.

MCN: Would you advise that the Federal
Communications Commission proceed
with reclassifying broadband under Title II,
or should Congress step in?

LS: 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.

THE STRICKLING FILE
Lawrence E. Strickling

Title: Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information;
Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information
Administration, U.S. Commerce Department

Background: Former chief regulatory officer and chief compliance
officer, Broadwing Communications; senior executive at Allegiance
Telecom and CoreExpress Inc.; Federal Communications
Commission Common Carrier Bureau chief; associate general
counsel and FCC Competition Division chief; vice president, public
policy, Ameritech; litigation partner at Kirkland & Ellis

September