Top members of the Obama administration held a meeting yesterday to solicit ideas on how to spend more than $7 billion on broadband programs. They’ll be hitting the road for more similar meetings.

The funds are expected to be disbursed through the Rural Utility Service (RUS), part of the Department of Agriculture, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), part of the Commerce Department. Broadband policy is formulated and implemented by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps and Rick Wade, acting chief of staff for the Commerce Department, are vowing a transparent process.

Reports suggest it’ll be a long process. Yesterday’s meeting was wide open and included a discussion about what the basic rules for the process should be, according to The New York Times (story here; registration required).

The NTIA and RUS released a Joint Request for Information (RFI) and Notice of Public Meetings, which invites comments from interested parties on the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and the RUS grants and loans program established in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The RFI sets a schedule of public meetings from March 16-24, each of which will feature a roundtable discussion and an opportunity for public comment.

The March 17 meeting will be held in Las Vegas, Nev., with the following day’s meeting scheduled for Flagstaff, Ariz.

Commenters are encouraged to file via the NTIA’s Web site.

The American Cable Association (ACA) issued its customary plea for minimal paperwork. ACA President and CEO Matt Polka said: "For too long, federal applications for loans and grants have imposed heavy administrative cost burdens on small cable companies. ACA is gratified that the Obama administration is committed to an open, streamlined process with a minimum of red tape.”

More Broadband Direct 03/11/09:

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•  Feds seek advice on broadband program
•  Comcast passes Qwest as 3rd-largest residential phone provider
•  Dell'Oro: Muni Wi-Fi boosted Cablevision's Q4 sub count
•  Bresnan reels in 5-year phone contract with Billings school district
•  AT&T to add 3,000 jobs, invest up to $18B in 2009
•  Vidiom bows interactive application test lab
•  Web video ad company gets $10M
•  Research: DOCSIS 3.0 will be fully deployed by 2013
•  Report: Despite economy, pay-TV subscriptions increase
•  Broadband Briefs for 03/11/09