Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NTIA: November 30 Is Probable Deadline for Round II Broadband Funding Comments

Public Comment Deadline Set, Direct Policy Management Role of Obama Administration in Program Seen 11/10/09 Boston
- The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the U.S Department of Commerce today clarified with this publication the probable public comment window for the second and final phase of the $7.2 billion federal broadband stimulus program. The comment cycle and the subject areas for which comments are sought have been established by the inter-agency coordination work of Obama Administration policy officials.

November 30 Comment Deadline Slated
November 30th is the projected comment filing deadline, as NTIA estimates the official rules, in the form of a Request for Information (RFI), will be formally released next Monday, November 16th, via publication in the Federal Register on that date.

NTIA press secretary, Ms. Jessica Schafer, today answered our questions about these timing issues with a written reply stating, "...per the Joint Notice, the period for comments will be 14 days after the notice is published in the federal Register. (Following standard practice, the editors at the FR will fill in the appropriate date to the Date line on the first page of the RFI.) We expect the notice to be published on Monday, 11/16."

The 2 agencies managing the broadband stimulus program this morning released an informational copy of the 10-page RFI document. Under federal practice, agency draft and final rules are not officially promulgated -- and public comment periods are not tolling -- until publication in the Federal Register. The informational RFI released this morning states, as Ms. Schafer iterated for us, that "Comments must be received...14 days after publication in the Federal Register..."

New NOFA Release Targeted for Early 2010
The informational RFI outlines the key subject matter areas in which the two agencies, the NTIA and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are requesting public comment on the final the set of funding rules expected to issue "early next year" according to today's joint statement from the agencies.

RUS and NTIA will thus be crafting the final rules for funding Round II during December of this year, and perhaps into the early weeks of 2010. As stated in today's RFI, the rules will again take the form of a Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA). The agencies will simultaneously be issuing the actual Round I funding awards, estimated to start in December and complete in February.

Deadlines, Time Frames and Policy
Our sources within the 2 line agencies, and within the Obama Administration, tell us what should be obvious to any observer of the 'broadband stim' program: Administration officials have taken a closer role in directly managing the program since September in the wake of press reports about faults in the funding application system, and especially given the often severe criticism from Members of Congress expressed in the 3 most recent and separate oversight hearings.

The policy and political needs to get the program "right" are in clear dynamic tension with the need to get the program "done." The impetus now is to get the projected programmatic total spend of $13 billion (the amount over the $7.2 billion in appropriations is attributable to the congressional loan leverage authority given to RUS) into shovel ready projects around the nation targeted at job creation and overall economic recovery.

Our sources tell us that it is the continuing need to simultaneously address these potentially conflicting requirements of program speed and quality that explains why Administration policy officials have called the play seen in the RFI document released today. Senior people have directed both the relatively short public comment window, and the solicitation of input across a wide variety of often controversial policy and procedural points.
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