McCain, Coburn Skewer NTIA Broadband Map

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A couple of Senators put the National Telecommunications & Information Administration’s $350 million broadband mapping program on the map last week, so they could stick pins in it.

The program, part of the broadband stimulus package, was a line item in a report released by Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma about stimulus money they said was “wasted, mismanaged, or directed towards silly and shortsighted projects.”

The report suggested the study could be obsolete by the time it is complete. The online map does not have to be completed until February 2011, by which time all the broadband projects getting stimulus money to reach underserved and unserved areas must already be in the broadband pipeline, as it were. (Winning bidders in the first round of projects are expected to be named this week.)

The Federal Communications Commission has a February 2010 deadline to give Congress a plan for how to reach the unserved and underserved areas — a plan that arguably would benefit from using a map identifying who has broadband.

NTIA spokesperson Jessica Schafer said, for the defense: “Congress rightly recognized that increasing broadband access and adoption in communities being left behind in the 21st-century economy depended on better data collection and broadband planning. They allocated the time and the resources necessary to carry out this unprecedented mapping program, and our goal is to execute it on schedule and at the lowest cost necessary to do the job right.”

An NTIA source said the agency actually is spending much less than the $350 million, with money applied for by states totaling only about $100 million. Plus, the NTIA source points out, the map must be updated at least twice a year.

Also getting hammered like a nine-inch nail in the report was a $5.9 million FCC grant for digital-TV changeover awareness, a program that allegedly created only three jobs.

The report took a gentle backhanded slap at big cable operators over the analog-to-digital transition delay, perhaps unsurprising from veteran cable price-basher McCain: “Concerns were raised that up to 20 million people were not quite ready for the transition, while large telecommunications firms such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable saw a delay as an opportunity to generate new pay TV subscribers.”

Joining the FCC and NTIA efforts on the McCain-Coburn skewer were 100 projects that harkened to pork-barrel lists of the past. They include a search for Argentinian fossils, “anti-capitalist, socially conscious puppet shows” and a study tracking the daily use of malt liquor and marijuana by residents of Buffalo, N.Y.

Cable Center Presents: Medley of Ted Turner, Maverick in True Form

Denver — Cable iconoclast Ted Turner was in true form last Wednesday at a Cable Mavericks lecture at The Cable Center, even bursting into song (“You Gotta Have Heart,” Damn Yankees) when asked how to motivate people. Some highlights of the hour-long Q&A with Kellogg School of Management professor Michael Smith:

  • On aging: “People say, are you worried about your mortality. I say hell no, I won’t have to get up in the morning!” Later: “I intend to make it to 90.” Also: “At 71, my mind is so old, I can’t remember if I have Alzheimer’s or … what’s the other one?”
  • On starting CNN because he got home from work too late to catch the evening newscast: “It’s like being married — you have access to lovemaking all the time. With a girlfriend, it’s just Friday nights.”
  • On what he’ll get Rupert Murdoch for Christmas: “We had lunch at Ted’s Montana Grill, in New York — and I paid. We made amends because he went green.”
  • On TBS initially costing 2x projections, with revenues at ½ projections: “I pulled the stamps off the mail that wasn’t cancelled and reused them.”
  • On what he would’ve done differently: “I’d have demanded we check AOL’s books that got us to over-pay by about a billion.”
  • On losing 80% of his net worth: “I’ve learned that you can get by on a billion if you cut down on buying airplanes.”
  • On the wars in the Middle East: “We’ve spent enough money on the Iraq war to buy the place five times over … now we’re in Afganistan, and there’s not even any oil there! And the Russians just pulled out, and they’re tough.”
  • Finally, on being successful: “Lead by example. Have infectious enthusiasm. Buy my book.” It’s called Call Me Ted (with Bill Burke, from Grand Central Publishing).

Beth Hoppe’s Task: Make 'Definitive’ Series on 'Curiosity.’ No Pressure.

Beth Hoppe was just named executive producer of Discovery Channel’s Curiosity: The Questions of Life, the planned 12-hour documentary series that channel founder John Hendricks wants to be “the definitive television experience for the knowledge seeker.”

“No pressure,” the former CEO of Optomen Productions joked in a phone interview last week.

Maybe because, as Hendricks also said in a statement: “Beth has the ideal skill set and artistic vision needed to capture Discovery’s mission of satisfying curiosity.”

Hoppe, at Optomen, produced many science-based cable shows, including Are We Alone? (about life outside Earth) for Discovery and Monster Inside Me (about parasites in humans) for Animal Planet, plus Evolve for AETN-owned History and programs for Travel Channel and Food Network.

Hoppe said early work on the project includes identifying the core question each one-hour episode will explore. Candidates include: What is curiosity? What is our universe made of? Why do empires collapse?

“The programs will be rich, beautiful documentaries,” she said. “Journey films, as I see them.” Because the questions lead to journeys of discovery, and because the filmmakers inevitably will be drawn to distant locales.

Are We Alone?, about life elsewhere in the solar system, went to the top of Mount Kenya and to Chile in search of extreme organisms in extreme locations. That’s “a good model for these films, because in answering these questions we will travel to the ends of the earth to find fun ways to illustrate this,” Hoppe said.

The shows will debut on Discovery in February 2011 (Sundays at 8 p.m.), then migrate to Science Channel.

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