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NCTA: Stimulus Should Focus On Areas Without Broadband

By: John Eggerton, Multichannel News

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, in comments to the Federal Communications Commission on the agency's consulting role in the broadband stimulus grant program, reiterated that the money should be focused on areas that currently do not have broadband service.

While the National Telecommunications & Information Administration and the Rural Utilities Service will actually administer the grant/loan money set aside in the economic stimulus package for broadband deployment, the FCC is charged by Congress with helping define who should get the service, under what openness conditions it must be delivered, and just what that service should be.

The cable trade group told the FCC in comments due April 13 that if there is money left over after unserved areas are taken care of, the grant and loan money should go toward improving the adoption rate in underserved areas to make use of the broadband already available -- computer training or subsidies, for example. And third, and only if there is any of the $7.2 billion in grant money left over, enhance broadband facilities in underserved areas, defined as lacking current-generation broadband.

NCTA also argues that the nondiscrimination conditions Congress stipulated for the grants be confined to the FCC's existing four principles.

Cable operators don't want the government to subsidize competitors, or to set a broadband speed threshhold that will classify areas already served by current-generation broadband as underserved.

NCTA also made that point in a filing with NTIA, whose comment deadline on the grant program was also Monday.

"The $7.2 billion provided for under the Recovery Act should be used to complement, not compete with, the vibrant broadband marketplace that exists in most areas of the countries," NCTA said, telling NTIA that serving unserved areas and boosting adoption should be the primary, "if not the exclusive" focus of the broadband stimulus program.

NCTA argues that the $250 million currently earmarked for adoption programs is not enough, and asks NTIA to set aside even more.

Saying that with economic stimulus the "overarching goal," NTIA should adopt streamlined applications procedures weighted toward the swiftness of completion, the sustainability of the project--these are one-time grants--and the experience of the applicants. NCTA points out that "existing providers of broadband service are best positioned to quickly and efficiently build out new facilities.

While NCTA acknowledges that state governments can have a role in the application process, they should not control the decision of who gets the grants or loans.


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