NCTA, Free Press Support NTIA Oversight Of Broadband Funds

2/04/2009 8:41 PM Eastern

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association joined with consumer-rights group Free Press in supporting the Senate's plan to unify the administration of broadband grants under one agency, and they also urged that the money be focused on developing networks in "unserved" areas.

NCTA chief Kyle McSlarrowIn a letter to Senate leaders, NCTA president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow and Free Press policy director Ben Scott said the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration should be the sole agency in charge of doling out grants for broadband networks included as part of the sweeping economic-stimulus plan pending in Congress.

The House last week approved an $820 billion version of the package, with about $6 billion tagged for broadband grants that would be administered by NTIA and the Department of Agriculture's rural utilities program. The still-pending Senate bill includes $9 billion for broadband grants handled through NTIA.

"By selecting NTIA to coordinate and administer the distribution of grant funds, the [Senate] bill correctly recognizes the value of this agency's expertise in communications matters and avoids the potential confusion and inconsistencies that might result were the program split among multiple agencies," McSlarrow and Scott wrote in a jointly signed letter, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader.

"NTIA is well suited to the task of implementing policies that promote economic recovery and the improvement of our telecommunications infrastructure," they wrote.

However, McSlarrow and Scott said, Congress should "adopt refinements to the legislation that will clarify legislative intent," to ensure the funds are targeted to construction of "robust facilities in unserved areas."

"The broader objective should be to use scarce resources judiciously to maximize and modernize the reach of our network infrastructure," the letter said.

In addition, they said the bill should clarify that private broadband providers should be eligible to apply for government grants directly without diminishing the role of partnerships with local and state governments.

"While telecommunications policy will always spur differing views and spark a lively debate, we agree that an NTIA program focused in these ways can play a meaningful and responsible role in 'moving the needle' on broadband adoption and deployment to close the digital divide," McSlarrow and Scott wrote.

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