NTIA Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Lawrence A. Strickling recently discussed the agency’s accomplishments getting the federal government’s broadband stimulus program up and running and seeing it through the awards and capital distribution phases. Addressing attendees at a Federal Bar Association Luncheon in Washington D.C. on October 21, the assistant secretary also spoke about what’s on the NTIA’s plate as broadband stimulus projects are implemented during the ensuing three years.
“In less than 20 months, NTIA built a multibillion dollar grant program from the ground up. This is the largest grant program that NTIA has ever managed and is one of the largest ever managed at the Department of Commerce. We had to hire staff, build the information systems, develop the rules, perform due diligence on the proposals, and award over $4 billion in grants, all before this past September 30.”
Looking forward, the NTIA’s role in administering the broadband stimulus program includes acting as an information clearinghouse for best practices related to the four broad broadband award categories, as well as providing administrative and regulatory oversight to assure projects are carried out in accordance with award and program requirements. Broadband stimulus program awards fell into four categories: infrastructure, public computer centers, sustainable broadband adoption projects, and state broadband data and development initiatives.
Overseeing and acting as a sort of national facilitator for dissemination of best practices and materials for broadband program participants affords the agency and federal government a valuable opportunity to work more closely with state and local public and private sector industry participants,the assistant secretary pointed out. Strickling added NTIA will also collect, analyze and disseminate data on broadband project development, uptake and technological performance.
“Although managing this program continues to present unique challenges, it also offers unprecedented learning opportunities for broadband policy making going forward,” the assistant secretary said. “For example, a key challenge for NTIA will be to assimilate information and best practices from our grantees and make them broadly available. Many of our sustainable broadband adoption and public computer center projects will be developing or utilizing digital literacy course materials.
The assistant secretary also made a point to provide some clarity, as well as reassurance, to broadband stimulus program participants as the NTIA struggles with a “quirk” in the 2011 federal budget process that has left the agency without funding between now and December 3.
“OMB has authorized us to continue to operate the program on the assumption Congress will include money for this program when it eventually passes a budget, so we are operating pretty much normally for the time being,” the assistant secretary explained.
“However, we are now working closely with Congress and the White House to secure this necessary funding before the end of the year. We are assuring our grantees that we will do everything possible to avoid disruptions and interruptions to the program, and we are hopeful we will get Congressional action to resolve this issue before the end of the year.”