An executive branch council spearheaded by the heads of the Commerce and Agriculture departments has released a report on recommendations for expanding broadband deployment and adoption that also describes broadband as a “core utility” that is “taking its place alongside water, sewer and electricity as essential infrastructure for communities.”
Released on Monday, the report, compiled by the Broadband Opportunity Council (BOC), responds to a presidential memorandum, titled Expanding Broadband Deployment and Adoption by Addressing Regulatory Barriers and Encouraging Investment and Training, which was signed by President Obama in March. Pursuant to that memorandum, the BOC was tasked with producing a report that includes recommendations to boost broadband deployment, competition and adoption “through executive actions within the scope of existing agency programs, missions and budgets.” A White House blog post announcing the report also notes that the BOC “review[ed] every major federal program that provides support for broadband, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services to the Department of Justice.”
Maintaining that broadband “has steadily shifted from an optional amenity to a core utility for households, businesses and community institutions,” the report presents four overarching recommendations: (1) modernization of federal programs to expand support for broadband investment, (2) expanded access to federal assets for the purpose of promoting broadband competition and deployment, (3) providing communities with the tools and resources needed to attract broadband investment, and (4) improvement of broadband-related data collection, analysis and research. Although the report includes no mandates for independent agencies such as the FCC, it acknowledges the impact of regulatory barriers on broadband deployment and urges action to ease or remove such barriers.
Federal agencies under the auspices of the Commerce, Justice and other departments have committed to certain actions over the next 18 months in hopes of achieving the report’s objectives. These include: (1) streamlining of applications for broadband support programs and broadband permitting processes, (2) creation of an online inventory of data of federal assets that can support faster broadband deployment, especially in rural areas, and (3) establishment of a public portal on federal broadband funding and loan programs “to help communities easily identify resources as they seek to expand access to broadband.” Among other things, the report also encourages the establishment of private sector benchmarks to measure Internet deployment at the local level and the adoption of “dig once” policies that will enable broadband providers to lay underground fiber lines when streets are dug up for utility and other projects. Agreeing that “streamlining and clarifying federal agency processes and procedures can speed further broadband investment,” a spokesman for wireless association CTIA said, “we look forward to working with federal agencies to quickly implement the . . . goals identified in this report.”