blind_html [Fwd: Talk of Free Money for Broadband Draws a Crowd]

  • From: Nimer <nimerjaber1@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: blind_html@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 11 Mar 2009 14:07:04 -0600

-------- Original Message --------
Subject:        Talk of Free Money for Broadband Draws a Crowd
Date:   Wed, 11 Mar 2009 19:42:05 -0000
From:   Ray T. Mahorney <coffee-craver@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Reply-To:       Blind-chit-chat@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
To:     <Undisclosed-Recipient:;>

March 10, 2009, 5:55 pm

Talk of Free Money for Broadband Draws a Crowd
By Saul Hansell
NY Times

It may well be a sign of how desperate everyone is for money these days
that a herd of hundreds of people in dark suits lined up under
Washington’s overcast skies this morning to get into a meeting at the
Commerce Department. The topic was how to get a share of the $7 billion
Congress wants sprinkled around the country over the next two years to
expand access to high-speed Internet.

There were state regulators, owners of farm country Internet providers
and the ever-recession-proof squadrons of lobbyists, all crowding to get
into a rock concert where the lead singers were out sick and the lyrics
hadn’t been written yet.

So far, President Obama has not named people to head the two government
agencies that are meant to distribute these funds: the Rural Utility
Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, and the
National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is in
the Commerce Department. Indeed, the Senate has not yet voted on Gary
Locke’s nomination for Commerce Secretary.

Tom Vilsack, who has taken office as Secretary of Agriculture, started
the meeting off by underscoring how much President Obama was committed
to broadband and how much farmers and ranchers need broadband to track
the weather and watch commodity prices. Then he made a hasty exit,
claiming he had a date with Cookie Monster and broccoli for an event
about child nutrition.

The word of the day was “Nofa,” which rhymes with sofa. It stands for
Notice of Funds Availability, and is the sort of document that can make
friends for the government fast. The big news of the event is that the
first Nofa will be published by the Commerce Department between April
and June, in hopes of getting one-third of the total funds assigned to
businesses, governments and nonprofit groups by the end of June. Another
third of the money will be distributed at the end of this year, and the
final batch will be designated in the spring of 2010. The agriculture
program is going to follow a similar schedule.

Both career bureaucrats and officials newly appointed by the Obama
administration repeatedly talked about how open and transparent the
program was going to be. The meeting was certainly open. In addition to
filling a 500-seat auditorium and two overflow rooms, it was broadcast
on the Web and over a teleconference. Questions were taken from the
audience and by e-mail.

But openness did not actually seem to translate to substance. There were
many questions about the actual terms of the laws and what sort of
proposals would be approved. What is the standard for determining
whether an area is “underserved” by broadband? Should a library that
needs broadband submit its own application, or should all the libraries
in a county gang up? Can satellite broadband companies qualify to

The answer in each case seemed to be a form of bureaucratic Rogerian
psychotherapy. (That’s the one where the therapist turns everything the
patient says into a question) The agencies want to hear what we the
people (and them the lobbyists) think the rules should be.

Mark Seifert, a senior advisor to the N.T.I.A, concluded the meeting by
saying: “All these issues have come up, and we are saying, ‘You tell us.’”

What that most likely means is that after a lightning round of meetings
and comment periods, the dark-suited herd will be back to find out what
they really need to do in order to pull money out of the Nofas.


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Nimer M. Jaber

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