On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission issued a public notice that said it would take written or oral comments on its consultative role for the broadband provisions of the Recovery Act up until April 13.

The next day, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) outlined its three main points in regard to how it thinks the $7.2 billion in broadband grants should be spent. The grants are being administered by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration and Rural Utilities Service (RUS), the latter of which is part of the Agriculture Department.

The broadband stimulus plan, which was passed last month, is the first concerted federal program to subsidize high-speed Internet services in rural areas. The section of the stimulus package that pertains to broadband contained a directive to the FCC to formulate a broadband policy within one year of the bill’s enactment (story here).

In its written response yesterday, the NCTA said it believes that a successful strategy to increase rural broadband deployment and adoption requires a three-pronged approach:

  • First, interagency coordination and communication is essential to ensuring that the various rural broadband support programs are administered efficiently and consistently.
  • Second, the agencies responsible for awarding grants, loans or other funds under any of the broadband incentive programs must ensure complete transparency in the application and award process in order to inspire public confidence in the programs and ensure that funds are put to their best use.
  • Finally, the agencies must agree on and institute clearly defined goals. Those goals should focus first on extending broadband facilities to areas without any broadband service; second, on supporting programs that enable underserved populations to purchase and make effective use of broadband service where it is already available; and third, if funds remain, on enhancing broadband facilities in underserved areas – defined as areas without today’s current-generation broadband services.

“A strategy that embodies these steps – for rural broadband programs and as part of the national broadband strategy – will best promote the goals of improved broadband accessibility and adoption in rural areas and throughout the country,” the NCTA wrote in its comments. “There are other important steps the Commission can and should take to increase rural broadband accessibility. It can revise the mechanism for distributing high-cost universal service support by reducing the support provided to those areas where the market is working to make competitive service available and reallocating those resources more efficiently.

“And it can adopt a pole attachment rate formula applicable to all broadband providers that promotes broadband deployment in rural areas by ensuring that pole attachment fees are no higher than needed to cover the costs incurred by the pole owner.”

The FCC said it would make staff members available for meetings with interested parties during March 30 through April 3, part of which overlaps with next week’s Cable Show in Washington, D.C.

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