Plowing Toward March 17 Target

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The federal government was shut down for much of last week due to a pair of back-breaking record snowstorms. But thanks in part to broadband connections — and unlike the U.S. Postal Service on at least one of those days — the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband team continued to deliver.

That’s according to chief broadband adviser Blair Levin, who said staffers continued to work through the weekends and, despite federal-government shutdowns, throughout the week toward its new March 17 deadline to deliver a national broadband plan to Congress. Congressional and commissioner briefings on the plan have begun, but that schedule was disrupted by the weather.

On Feb. 9, as the capital braced for a second storm and the government was shut down for a second day, Levin briefly took time out to talk to Multichannel News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton, expressing confidence the team would hit its new target.

MCN: The government is shut down. Is the broadband team as well?

Blair Levin: We have about 50% to 60% of our folks in. I think I have seen about 25 people. And everyone else, and we kind of like this, is working remotely via broadband. Some of the briefings we have been doing for various folks are delayed, but the team is in.

Over the weekend, my home lost power and therefore I was not on broadband. I was fortunately able to rely on a general-purpose technology from 50,000 years ago called fire, to stay warm, and to use another general-purpose technology from 5,000 years ago, called paper, to work on the national broadband plan for the general-purpose technology of this century.

MCN: And you are still OK with the March 17 deadline to Congress?

BL: Yes. Life throws many curveballs at you, but we are still on track.

MCN: Does the fact that much of your team is working from home online reinforce the value of broadband?

BL: Yes. It also suggests the value of electricity. Let me not get too broadband-centric having spent the weekend very, very cold other than sitting by the fire.

MCN: When do you think you will complete the briefings?

BL: It depends on what you define as briefings. We have done various rounds. In some sense it never ends until the thing is published.

MCN: Have you decided how it will be presented to the commissioners?

BL: Those questions I can’t really answer.

MCN: But it will be an online document that can be updated as you meet mileposts and that sort of thing?

BL: I think a way of thinking about it is that the broadband plan is both a plan and a process. You already have a process. If you look at the shot-clock thing [for wireless tower siting by state and local governments] that we did back in November, or an item about enabling [the U.S. Education Department’s] E-rate facilities [for schools] to be open to communities.

So even before the plan is delivered, there are certain things that grow out of the plan. It should be thought of in that way. One of the things that is very clear is that the plans that work are plans that have a high-level commitment of follow-up, implementation, course correction and things like that.