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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pelosi Lobbies Obama Administration in Support of Mayor Newsom’s $35 Million Broadband Stimulus Bid for San Francisco

StimulatingBroadband.com 04/06/2010 San Francisco – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-08) is drafting a letter of support, to be issued to the U.S. Department of Commerce, advocating for the funding by the Department of San Francisco’s $34.6 million in broadband stimulus grant requests.
Mayor Gavin Newsom and Speaker Pelosi at
a transportation stimulus grant announcement,
the reconstruction of the Doyle Drive approaches
to Golden Gate Bridge, 02/28/2010.
(Photo Credit: San Francisco Citizen)
The Administration of Mayor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) recently filed 3 separate applications for the nearly $35 million figure in the second and final round of President Obama’s $7.2 billion federal program. 


Significance Beyond the Bay Area
The significance of the support of the Mayor’s proposals by his city’s leading Member of Congress is, like the applications themselves, of national significance in the ongoing policy debates over broadband.
The Obama Administration has not funded a stimulus application for federally subsidized broadband infrastructure in an urban area of the U.S. in the 140 awards issued to date Even without issuing funding for any such urban "overbuild" of existing networks, Obama's program has drawn sharp criticism from incumbent cable and telecom firms, and their Republican allies on Capitol Hill.
By publicly backing the "urban underserved" policy of the Newsom Administration, the Speaker is not merely supporting her home constituency.  She is wading into one of the most controversial policy / political battles among many in the current American telecom sector.

Newsom and Pelosi Voice Support
All 3 of the city’s applications were made to the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) administered by Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

“Our three BTOP applications advance three critical City objectives: jobs, digital inclusion and an open internet,” said Mayor Newsom in a written statement responding to our questions about the applications. “First and foremost,” continued the Mayor “based on the White House's formula for stimulus projects we estimate that directly and indirectly, the three applications will save or create over 580 job years in the City over the next three years, while the advanced fiber infrastructure will be a catalyst for long term economic growth.”

According to Newsom’s Deputy Press Secretary Brian Purchia, Speaker Pelosi’s staff today “is working on a letter in support of our application and once completed, we will forward to NTIA as part of our package.” The California eighth congressional district of Speaker Pelosi is comprised 100% of the City and County of San Francisco. Mayor Newsom, 43, is the presumptive Democratic nominee in this year’s race for Lt. Governor of the Golden State.

A Municipal Telecom Leader Calls the Policy Question
In making its submittal to Washington, the city has put front and center an important, and controversial, policy question: Should public funds be used to build broadband networks in urban areas where certain populations are underserved by incumbent commercial providers like AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ: CMCSA), or Verizon Communications, Inc. (NYSE: VZ).

San Francisco is perhaps the U.S. city best positioned to raise this issue, given the city’s history in telecom initiatives, its leading role in the U.S. tech sector, and its political prominence. Oh, and yes, based on our reading of the city’s applications, Mayor Newsom’s staff has done its homework in the all important grant applications themselves.

The City’s tech policy officials last year were strident in their criticisms of the rules for Round I of the federal broadband stimulus program, pointing out that the feds paid little attention to the needs of urban populations unserved by broadband providers. San Francisco’s CIO, Chris Vein, at the time gave his reasons for not applying in a policy paper, and in national statements heavily carried by the business, and telecom press.
The City filed comments with the Obama Administration in November, outlining its criticisms, and calling for changes in Round II. According to city officials, detail level changes implemented by federal officials in the rules for Round II were applicable to San Francisco’s urban underserved areas and populations, allowing the City's grant requests to move ahead.

If this recent national role wasn’t enough for the city to achieve both expertise and battle scars in municipal telecom policy, clearly the rollicking experience of the city with a proposed citywide WiFi network, in the 2005 - 2007 era, stands out in the minds of most observers of the ‘muni net’ market space.

Why the City Filed Now: A Change in Federal Rules
San Francisco filed for federal grants in all 3 of the categorical funding areas administered by the NTIA:

• $14.366 million for the expansion of the city’s institutional fiber network from the Comprehensive Community Infrastructure (CCI) funding pool.

(San Francisco R2 CCI .PDF).

• $12.348 million in the Public Computer Center (PCC) category.

(San Francisco R2 PCC .PDF).

• $7.931 million from the Sustainable Broadband Adoption (SBA) fund.

(San Francisco R2 SBA .PDF).

Changes issued by NTIA to its funding rules for Round II allowed San Francisco to move ahead with its CCI application, for an urban middle mile network, in the current grant cycle.

“The main reason we were able to apply this time,” said Brian Roberts, the city official who was the Sherpa for the application process through to its filing, “on the infrastructure side was that underserved areas were decoupled in the rules from the locations of community anchors.”

The proposed build out of the city’s optical fiber network to anchor institutions in order to serve population clusters of low broadband usage was actually the second choice of the Newsom Administration. “Our initial thought was a last mile pilot project would make the most sense, but the rules in the second round were not applicable,” Mr. Roberts, who serves as Senior Policy Advisor in the Department of Technology of the City, said yesterday in an interview.

NTIA posted its first notice of the 3 proposals, along with those of over 860 other Round II application summaries, late in the day on Friday, April 2nd. NTIA’s sister agency managing the broadband stimulus program has as of yet to post its list of Round II applications. There has been no other reporting to date on the San Francisco applications, although the City’s Department of Technology has made its applications and strategy fully public and transparent on its site.

Newsom sees the 3 applications proposing an integrated whole which seeks to increase both broadband availability and adoption to underserved areas of San Francisco. “Our proposal will combine new infrastructure with new public computing resources that will bring broadband equipped computer labs deeper into neighborhoods through public housing, senior centers and a mobile lab,” said the Mayor in his response to StimulatingBroadband.com.

The Mayor, The Comcast Decision, and Net Neutrality
San Francisco, even without Silicon Valley to its immediate south, is home to one of the greatest concentrations of broadband-enabled and enabling companies, investment firms, and entrepreneurs on the planet.

While critics of both right and left attacked Newsom for his Administration’s efforts on the muni WiFi initiative in the last decade, his advocacy at the time, like his filing of the 3 broadband stimulus grant requests, has to be seen in the context of advocacy for his high tech constituency. The Mayor’s concluding remarks to us of today, addressing one of the most critical events in U.S. telecom policy over the last several years, is apropos the same advocacy of his local homegrown constituency.

Tying together the open network requirements of the federal broadband stimulus program with the network neutrality policy push of the Obama Administration, Newsom pointed to today’s U.S. Circuit Court decision in Comcast v. FCC.  The ruling heavily constraints the ability of Obama’s telecom regulators to move forward with network neutrality plans without congressional authorization.

Comcast, along with competitor AT&T, serves San Francisco with broadband hybrid fiber-coax and fiber to the node networks, respectively.

“Finally, we have proposed an open and flexible network that will allow innovative, nimble service providers to compete with the incumbent providers. As today's DC Circuit Court's decision illustrates, net neutrality and an open internet are only really safe when network operators, such as the City's proposed network, are committed to the principles of an open internet.” StimultingBroadband.com
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