Wednesday, April 15, 2009

North Carolina Broadband Authority Imperiled by Fiscal Cuts 04/15/09 Reports out of North Carolina are describing the drastic fiscal cuts facing one of the nation's pioneering state rural broadband programs, the e-NC Authority of the Tar Heel State.

First established by the state's Legislature in August of 2000, as the Rural Internet Access Authority, the current e-NC Authority was created by state law in 2003. Under further legislation of 2006, the mission of the Authority -- study underserved areas of the state, provide incentives for the extension of high capacity services into those regions, and generally increase adoption of Internet usage -- was extended until the end of 2011.

In two copyrighted stories over the past week, on, the online service of the Raleigh television broadcaster, the depth of budget cuts proposed by Democratic Governor Beverly Purdue are detailed. One story describes the irony of debilitating budget cuts happening to a broadband agency now, as the Obama Administration has greatly increased federal funding for on-the-ground broadband programs in rural areas, via the "broadband stimulus" provisions of the American Recovery and Renewal Act of 2009 (ARRA). All reporting on the subject states that if the budget cuts are implemented, the Authority's ability to target the dispersal of federal funds will be imperiled.

brief comments submitted earlier this week to the joint NTIA-RUS comment portal, maintained by the federal agencies administering the $7.2 billion in ARRA broadband funds, made the point that fewer than 20 states around the nation have formal and organized broadband programs. We suggested that federal agencies consider assisting states with administrative "capacity building." States need to conduct the types of statewide broadband measurement and mapping, demand aggregation, grant application evaluation, and regional needs assessments that agencies like e-NC have engaged in for years. Based on experience with state broadband programs, we believe these programmatic abilities are essential to effective dispersal of public monies on broadband infrastructure.

Applicable language of ARRA appears to authorize spending for program administration only within federal agencies. Allied provisions disallow the dispersal of monies to pay for carrier or provider "operations", so surely there is little evidence of Congressional intent to fund state agency operating needs. What therefore happens at state broadband programs, like that of North Carolina, that have spent years compiling the data necessary to wisely invest public broadband monies, yet now face the possible inability to implement those plans?

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