Perspective: Kirton McConkie Law Blog

Some are calling it a second “broadband moment”

More than six years after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was responsible for more than $7 billion in federal funds being spent on broadband infrastructure, Internet adoption and telecommunications mapping, there is a new level of interest in re-vising the National Broadband Plan, as laid out by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2010.

Among the indicators:

There is widespread interest in municipalities and regions tackling less-than-adequate broadband infrastructure, either through municipal construction or through public-private partnerships.

The FCC’s recent changes to eRate eligibility rules open the door for “community anchor institutions” to build their own fiber connections, and to tap into newly-replenished FCC funds when they do so.

The FCC has also just launched an effort to revamp its Lifeline fund, which is the fourth major Universal Service Fund category to receive an overhaul in the past decade.

While lacking in substantial funds, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) continues to stake out a role in federal broadband policy. Jointly with the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service, NTIA has issued a “Request for Comment” for a wide-ranging public inquiry about expanding broadband deployment and adoption through the recently-established Broadband Advisory Council.

On June 2, 2015, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on “Intended Outcomes and Effectiveness of Efforts to Address Adoption Barriers are Unclear.” In it, the agency highlighted strong progress in bringing broadband to U.S. households, to 83 percent in 2013 from 72 percent in 2011.

At the same time, the agency noted that “adoption has increased, but a significant percentage of the population has still not adopted broadband, and non-adoption rates remain higher among populations such as low-income households and older Americans.”

GAO recommended that NTIA include an outcome-based goal and measure for its broadband adoption work in its performance plan and yet NTIA stated that such metrics are not appropriate for its efforts because these efforts are advisory.

The renewed interest in federal broadband infrastructure investments provides a new opportunity for providers of last-mile internet services to obtain the partners, the funding, and the legal advice they need to take the next step on their broadband projects.