On January 7, 2010, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski asked for a ne-month extension of the deadline to deliver the National Broadband Plan (“NBP”) to Congress. Regular readers of the Communications Law Bulletin will not be surprised to learn that the Chairman cited the voluminous record compiled over the last several months as the primary reason behind the request for more time. As we have reported and the Chairman has observed, the Commission must review more than 35 public workshops, nine field hearings, a broad Public Notice seeking general input, 30 “targeted” Public Notices, and countless posts on the Commission’s “Blogband” page. The Chairman also noted that the “additional time will enable the FCC to continue to obtain input from key stakeholders and more fully brief Commissioners and the House and Senate Committees on aspects of the Plan as it comes together.”

Commissioner McDowell was widely quoted in the press as being “disappointed that the FCC’s broadband team is unable to deliver a national broadband plan to Congress by the statutorily mandated deadline,” but hopes that the quality of the final product will reflect the additional time used to prepare it. Commissioner Meredith Baker voiced similar disapproval of the request for extension.

Provided Congress agrees, the National Broadband Plan would be due March 17, 2010. Members of the FCC’s Omnibus Broadband Initiative team updated the Commission on the status of the NBP at the January 16, 2010 Open Meeting. Blair Levin noted several critical regulatory issues that will need to be addressed as part of the NBP, including reform of the Universal Service Fund, the importance of promoting mobile broadband, and the need to address broadband adoption through promoting digital literacy.

FCC Public Notices Seeking Input on National Broadband Plan

As noted in several previous editions of this Bulletin, while the National Broadband Plan Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) sought public input on a wide variety of broadband issues, the Commission changed its approach in the second half of 2009 and sought comment on targeted issues through individual public notices. Input on these targeted issues supplements the record received in response to the National Broadband Plan NOI and the discussions at the National Broadband Plan staff workshops that have been held to date. All of the comment cycles for these Public Notices have closed. Recent Public Notices are mentioned in brief below:

  • NBP Public Notice #18 - Relationship Between Broadband and Economic Opportunity: November 12, 2009 FCC Public Notice (DA 09-2414) sought comment on broadband issues specific to small businesses (businesses with 500 or fewer employees), medium and large businesses (businesses with more than 500 employees), and nonprofit organizations. Comments were due December 4, 2009.  
  • NBP Public Notice #19 - Role of the Universal Service Fund and Intercarrier Compensation in the National Broadband Plan: November 13, 2009 FCC Public Notice (DA-2419) sought comment on the extent to which reform of the Commission’s universal service and intercarrier compensation policies could further the goal of making broadband universally available to all people of the United States. Comments were due December 7, 2009.  
  • NBP Public Notice #20 - Moving Toward a Digital Democracy: November 17, 2009 FCC Public Notice (DA 09-2431) sought comment on how broadband can help to bring democratic processes (e.g., elections, public hearings, and town hall meetings) into the digital age in order to encourage and facilitate citizen opportunities to engage and participate in their democracy. Comments were due December 10, 2009.  
  • NBP Public Notice #21 - Data Portability and its Relationship to Broadband: November 18, 2009 FCC Public Notice (DA 09-2433) sought comment on broadband and portability of data and their relation to cloud computing, transparency, identity, and privacy. Comments were due December 9, 2009.  
  • NBP Public Notice # 22 - Research Necessary for Broadband Leadership: November 18, 2009 FCC Public Notice (DA 09-2434) sought suggestions and ideas to support a new Broadband Task Force proceeding to develop research recommendations for Congress to enable the U.S. to advance broadband deployment in the U.S. over the next decade and to be a global leader in broadband networking in the years 2020 and beyond. Comments were due December 8, 2009.  
  • NBP Public Notice # 23 - Network Deployment Study Conducted by the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information: November 20, 2009 FCC Public Notice (DA-2458) sought comment on the study released by the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information (part of Columbia Business School in New York) reviewing projected deployment of new and upgraded broadband networks. Commenters are invited to discuss, among other things, whether the study accomplishes its intended purposes, provides a complete and objective survey and review of the subject matter, how accurately and comprehensively the study examines the projected deployment of new and upgraded broadband networks, and how accurately and comprehensively the study examines the nature and future of broadband adoption. Comments were due December 4, 2009.  
  • NBP Public Notice # 24 - Broadband Measurement and Consumer Transparency of Fixed Residential and Small Business Services in the U.S.: November 24, 3009 FCC Public Notice (DA-2474) sought comment on whether there are opportunities to protect and empower American consumers by ensuring sufficient access to relevant information about communications services, including data on service quality and transparency issues for multi-unit buildings. Commenters were invited to submit additional information on fixed residential and small business Internet broadband services, which are the specific subset of the services covered by the 2009 Consumer Information and Disclosure Notice of Inquiry (FCC 09-68, released Aug. 28, 2009). Comments were due December 14, 2009.  
  • NBP Public Notice # 25 - Transition from Circuit-Switched Network to All-IP Network: December 1, 2009 FCC Public Notice (DA 09-2517) sought comment on relevant policy questions that a Notice of Inquiry on the topic of transitioning to an all-IP network should raise in order to assist the Commission in considering how best to monitor and plan for the transition. In particular, commenters were asked to discuss which policies and regulatory structures may facilitate or hinder the efficient migration to an all-IP world, as well as what aspects of traditional policy frameworks are important to consider, address, and possibly modify in an effort to protect the public interest in an all-IP world. Comments were due December 21, 2009.  
  • NBP Public Notice # 26 - Uses of Spectrum: December 2, 2009 FCC Public Notice (DA-2518) sought specific data on the use of spectrum currently licensed to broadcast television stations and whether broadcasters could use market-based mechanisms to contribute to the broadband effort any spectrum in excess of that which they need to meet their public interest obligations and remain financially viable. Commenters were asked to discuss, among other issues, what factors the Commission should consider when examining and comparing the benefits of spectrum used for over-the-air television broadcasting and those of spectrum used for wireless broadband services; the impact to the U.S. economy if insufficient additional spectrum were made available for wireless broadband deployment; the impact on the U.S. if broadcast service were diminished due to reallocating broadcast spectrum to other uses; and potential approaches to increase spectrum availability and efficiency. Comments were due December 21, 2009.  
  • NBP Public Notice # 27 - Video Device Innovation: December 3, 2009 FCC Public Notice (DA-2519) sough comment on how the Commission can encourage innovation in the market for video devices that will assist the Commission’s development of a National Broadband Plan, as well as meet the Commission’s statutory obligations to promote a competitive market for navigation devices under Section 629 of the Communications Act of 1934. The Public Notice observed the increasing trend of streaming videos over the Internet, video offerings by companies traditionally considered telephone companies, and Internet-based video subscription services. Commenters were invited to discuss what technological and market-based limitations keep retail video devices from accessing all forms of video content that consumers want to watch; whether a retail market for network agnostic video devices would spur broadband use and adoption and achieve Section 629’s goal of a competitive navigation device market for all MVPDs; whether the home broadband service model could be adapted to allow video networks to connect and interact with home video network devices; and what obstacles stand in the way of video convergence. Comments were due December 21, 2009.  
  • NBP Public Notice # 28 - Broadband Deployment Financing: December 18, 2009 FCC Public Notice (DA-2610) sought comment on the extent to which the challenges of bringing broadband access to rural communities are a result of the lack of private financing for network deployment, whether through capital investment, debt financing, or other financial support. Commenters were asked to discuss the potential private sector and government funding vehicles for effective financing of broadband deployment projects in rural and high-cost areas. Comments were due January 8, 2010.  
  • NBP Public Notice # 29 – Privacy Issues Raised by the Center for Democracy and Technology: January 13, 2010 FCC Public Notice (DA 10-62) sought comment on the relevance of online privacy protections to broadband adoption and deployment. In particular, commenters are invited to offer input on several “significant” questions about the use of personal information and privacy in an online, broadband world raised by the Center for Democracy and Technology in a letter to the Commission dated January 11, 2010. The questions cover a variety of topics, including consumers’ expectations of privacy on the Internet; ways to promote the development of technologies that protect online privacy; the creation and protection of “transactional data” that could be sensitive or harmful if misused (location information, health data, etc.); and the ever-growing use of third-party applications. Comments were due January 22, 2010.  
  • NBP Public Notice # 30 – Reply Comments on National Broadband Plan: January 13, 2010 FCC Public Notice (DA 10-61) seeks comment any and all matters and issues raised in the NBP proceeding since the initial workshops and public notices in August 2009. This Public Notice was prompted by a January 11, 2010 Request for Opportunity to Submit Reply Comments filed by Media Access Project (“MAP”). MAP asked the FCC for the opportunity for interested parties to submit reply comments addressing issues that have been raised during the course of the NBP proceeding, noting that the many public notices, workshops, field hearings, and recent dialogue on the issues have “cast new light and added new perspectives on many of the questions raised in those notices and meetings.” Comments were due January 27, 2010.  

NTIA Releases Second NoFA and Issues Rolling Broadband Mapping Grants

On January 15, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Rural Utilities Service (“RUS”) released two separate notices of funds availability (“NoFAs”) in the second round of NoFAs under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (“Recovery Act”), together totaling $4.8 billion, including a new streamlined application process. For grants awarded in this round, NTIA will focus on middle-mile broadband projects, while RUS will target last-mile projects. In particular, NTIA grants will be targeted at middle-mile projects that support connections for public computer centers, libraries, hospitals, and universities. By separating NTIA and RUS funds in separate NoFAs, interested parties can apply for funds under both programs. Applications will be accepted from February 16 to March 15, 2010.

Awards for broadband mapping projects have been rolling out in late 2009 and early 2010. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act allocated up to $350 million for broadband mapping grants, administered by the NTIA. Based on current projections, NTIA may not need the full amount allocated, but the grant award process is ongoing. NTIA received applications for mapping grants from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all five U.S. territories. Under the ARRA, grants cover 80% of the cost of the mapping project and grant recipients must pay the remaining 20%. Broadband mapping data gathered by the states will be incorporated into the national broadband map to be created by NTIA. In some cases, recipients are state agencies like public utilities commissions; in other cases, grants are being made to non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations like Connected Nation.

The first set of awards was made in October for Arkansas, California, the District of Columbia, Indiana, North Carolina, New York, Vermont, and West Virginia. In early November, NTIA announced state broadband mapping grants for Alabama, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. On November 30, NTIA announced broadband mapping grants for projects in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri. In the third week of December, NTIA awarded 15 grants for broadband mapping and planning projects for Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Puerto Rico. On New Year's Eve, NTIA awarded five grants for projects in Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, Utah, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In mid-January, NTIA awarded a total of 10 grants under the State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program for broadband mapping projects located in Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

NTIA received applications from all U.S. states, the five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia for grants under its State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program.

As of press time, NTIA has made 51 grants totaling $97 million, and the agency plans to announce additional grants in 2010.