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Agencies flooded with comments about broadband stimulus

The comment period for using the broadband stimulus money ended this week

By Grant Gross
April 15, 2009 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Two U.S. agencies soliciting comments about how to spend $7.2 billion in broadband deployment money have received about 1,400 comments, with conflicting views on Net neutrality among them.

More than 300 comments flooded into the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday, the deadline for comments on how the broadband deployment grant programs, part of a massive economic stimulus package, should be structured.

The CTIA, a trade group representing wireless carriers, urged the NTIA not to extend Net neutrality nondiscrimination rules beyond the rules enforced by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. Congress, in passing the $787 billion stimulus package, required the NTIA and FCC to create nondiscrimination rules for NTIA's $4.7 billion broadband grant program, but the CTIA suggested that wireless networks should not be subject to Net neutrality rules.

The Net neutrality rules "should be applied to broadband stimulus grantees within the context of its existing parameters, and not more broadly," the CTIA said in its comments (download PDF). "Wireless networks are inherently different than the networks for which the [Net neutrality] policy statement was developed. The underlying network infrastructure, including spectrum, as well as the integration of the customer equipment, make wireless significantly different than other broadband networks."

The stimulus package was signed in mid-February, and the NTIA plans to issue notices of funding by June, the CTIA noted. "This proceeding simply does not afford the luxury of time that would be necessary to go beyond the regulatory structure that has been (and continues to be) carefully considered by the FCC," the organization said.

But Free Press, a media reform group, urged the NTIA and RUS to go farther than current Net neutrality rules. The agencies should also set speed guidelines, with no projects that deliver speeds of less than 200Kbit/sec. funded by the agencies, Free Press said in its comments its comments. Grant applicants should report the minimum and average speeds they intend to deliver, wrote Derek Turner, Free Press' research director.

In addition, the stimulus package requires that the RUS give funding priority to projects that give users more than one Internet service provider and also requires the agency to give priority to projects that provide service to rural residents who do not have any access to broadband, Turner noted. Those priorities would suggest that Congress wants broadband projects that share lines with competitors, he said.

"At first glance, these two priorities appear to be in direct conflict," he wrote. "If a project will result in an end user having service from more than a single provider, then that service by definition will be provided to residents that already have access to broadband service. If we assume that Congress did not intend to saddle RUS with such conflicting priorities, we must assume that the first provision directs the agency to prioritize applications that will deploy broadband services that are sold on a wholesale basis to multiple retail providers."

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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