Monday, November 30, 2009

Deja Vu All Over Again: Federal Broadband Stimulus Public Comment Site Generates Delays & Faulty Postings 11/30/09 Boston - The federal online site supporting the filing of public comments for a potential revamp of the rules for the Recovery Act's broadband stimulus program has generated delays and garbled filings throughout today, the deadline for comment period opened on November 16.

Earlier this evening, inquired of the lead media relations personnel at the two agencies managing the program as to the apparent faults being generated by the electronic filing system. As of this posting, the federal employees are still working to answer our questions. We will issue updates as we receive public and attributable information from our agency contacts.

As the public comment deadline of 5:00 PM (ET) today drew closer this afternoon the site hosting the filing of comments became delayed it its posting of ingoing comments for periods ranging from 20 to 45 minutes. Following approximately 4:15 PM, delays ranged from 1 hour to 5 hours, growing longer into the late afternoon and evening.

Given that under the published rules for the comment cycle today at 5:00 PM was a 'hard deadline' after which late filed comments may be rejected, the delay becomes an important consideration in terms of how it is regarded by the agency managing the comment receipt and posting processes.

Additionally, and significantly for the hundreds of individuals, firms, service providers, civic organizations, and state and local governmental agencies attempting to issue comments, as many as half of the comments posted in any given group of filings appear to be garbled and illegible.

For observers of, and participants in, the broadband stimulus program, today's systemic faults are more than a bit of
déjà vu all over again. The public comment system which accepted the first round of comments, with a deadline of April 13, similarly caused delays, and generated some allegations that comments were labeled 'late filed' by NTIA as a result of the system's inability to process comments in a timely manner.

More infamously, the online system operated by a private contractor which hosted the filings of funding Round I applications broke down several times during August. The filing deadline was extended multiple times, to the angst of both applicants and agency chiefs testifying to congressional oversight committees, as a result.

The site in use currently is maintained by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) jointly on behalf of its Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and its sister agency, the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The two agencies are charged by Congress, in the Recovery Act, with managing the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus program.
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