Lawrence Strickling, the Obama administration's telecommunications policy adviser and administrator of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications Information Administration, spoke with Multichannel News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton about broadband stimulus funding and other topics.
MCN: What is the status of the NTIA's broadband-stimulus grant program, and when do you have to hand out your last grants? [NTIA still had about $2.5 billion of its $4.7 billion to hand out at press time.]
Lawrence Strickling: We have a statutory deadline for Sept. 30. As of today, we are on track to get all of that money out by the end of September.
MCN: National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow used the term "disaster" in reference to the broadband-stimulus funding. While he said there were meritorious awards being given out, he also said that despite those good intentions, some of it is going to overbuilding services already being provided by private investment.
LS: He's wrong. These are all good projects in BTOP (the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program). I think that it may just reflect maybe not a complete understanding of our program and what our goals are under the statute.
Under the statute, we have a number of purposes. One was to expand broadband to unserved and underserved areas. An equally important priority was to meet the needs of anchor institutions, including schools, libraries, hospitals and state government. We also have a separate purpose relating to public safety.
But if what Kyle is saying is that we should only have focused on unserved households - that was never what the Recovery Act stood for. It was never part of our mission as we saw it. We viewed our mission as simply to reward money to projects where we could meet the greatest level of need.
That is the way we have gone at this in all the projects that we have awarded. Anchor institutions have a much different set of needs from the businesses and residences, and that is reflected in the awards that we have given.
MCN: Where are you in the broadband inventory process and how can you be sure you are not overbuilding if you don't yet know where all that broadband is?
LS: That question has been with us since the beginning of the program, and the fact of the matter is that we looked at each project based on the information they supply. We also have information that each of the states has supplied to us about where their areas of need are. Many of the states actually reviewed the applications themselves and recommended some applications. We take that into account.
Carriers who offer service in the areas also supplied information to us, so we had that available as we looked at it. And we also insisted the applicant provide information from, in particular, the anchor institutions that they intend to serve with their project and understand their level of need.
One of the things we found is that the fact that there maybe 1-Megabit DSL service to homes in a community in no way tells you whether or not the anchor institutions, who generally have much more substantial bandwidth needs, are being adequately served. And we have taken that into account.
MCN: Part of the NTIA's charter is advising the administration on Internet governance. What is your take on the seven Internetgovernance principles agreed to by Google and Verizon Communications?
LS: I haven't really had a chance to study it in any detail, but obviously on the larger issue, on net neutrality, the administration has been strong from the start that we support an open Internet. We support innovation, investment, free speech and consumer choice, and we would certainly like to see that reflected in whatever action comes out of the process at the FCC.
MCN: Would you advise that the Federal Communications Commission proceed with reclassifying broadband under Title II, or should Congress step in?
LS: I don't have an opinion on that. Our view of it is that we want a free and open Internet and we are happy to see any number of processes that might get us there.