white houseA multi-agency council established by President Obama earlier this year has recommended making $10 billion available to federal agencies to spend on broadband. Obama established the Broadband Opportunity Council in March with the goal of expanding broadband availability.

At that time, the council was charged with coming up with a list of recommendations to further broadband goals within 150 days. That effort resulted in a 40-page report released yesterday that details how the $10 billion, which appears to be drawn from existing budgets, would be used. The Broadband Opportunity Council is co-chaired by Agriculture Secretary John Vilsack and Commerce Department Secretary Penny Pritzker, but a total of 25 agencies were involved in the council.

“Today, broadband is taking its place alongside water, sewer and electricity as essential infrastructure for communities,” wrote the report authors in the report titled “Broadband Opportunity Council: Report and Recommendations. “However, not all Federal programs fully reflect the changing social, economic and technological conditions that redefined the need for and benefits of broadband. In some cases, programs that can support broadband deployment and adoption lack specific guidelines to promote its use. Other programs have not integrated funding for broadband commensurate with its importance and role in program execution and mission.”

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The recommendations about federal agency broadband spending fall into the first of four broad categories of recommendations made by the council, including:

  • Modernizing Federal programs to expand program support for broadband investments
  • Empowering communities with tools and resources to attract broadband investment and promote meaningful use
  • Promoting increased broadband deployment and competition through expanded access to federal assets
  • Improve data collection, analysis and research on broadband

Broadband Opportunity Council Recommendations
To free up the $10 billion for broadband, the Broadband Opportunity Council recommends 13 initial actions involving several different agencies, including the Treasury Department, Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice, as well as the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce. Each recommendation includes key milestones and a target date for completion of that milestone.

For example, HUD is charged with establishing broadband connectivity standards for housing construction, the Labor Department is charged with expanding broadband eligibility for job centers and HHS is charged with making $25 million in new grants to advance the use of broadband in health centers.

Telecompetitor readers also will be interested to know that one of the Broadband Opportunity Council recommendations is to open up the Rural Utilities Service Program to network operators that are not the incumbent carrier in an area. The program, which makes low-interest loans to telecom service providers, is expected to have funding of $690 million for fiscal year 2016.

Also of particularly interest to Telecompetitor readers, recommendations call for the USDA to expand broadband eligibility for the Rural Business Loan Guarantee Program and to expand broadband eligibility for the RUS Electric Program.

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