As the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) nears completion, NTIA staff is continuing to work closely with our grantees to ensure that projects are wrapping up on time and within budget, delivering the promised broadband benefits to the communities they serve.
Ensuring projects meet their milestones and protecting taxpayer funds is of paramount importance to NTIA. Our staff performs extensive and diligent oversight and provides technical assistance to our recipients tailored to their needs. This oversight involves a significant level of effort, and requires our staff to sometimes take tough enforcement action to protect taxpayer funds.
NTIA oversees our projects in a number of ways. Staff remains in close and frequent contact with award recipients via regularly scheduled conference calls, email exchanges, drop-in calls on specific administrative or programmatic topics, and in-person conferences. These contacts serve as a means to reinforce the terms and conditions associated with each award and help ensure that NTIA quickly addresses challenges that arise. Additionally, recipients must report quarterly and annually to NTIA on key financial and programmatic activities. These reports are posted publicly and provide detailed information on progress in achieving program outcomes, use of funds, challenges faced, and expected future progress. Finally, NTIA conducts site visits to projects and has conducted over 150 oversight visits representing more than 94 percent of BTOP federal award dollars.
As issues arise, NTIA utilizes tools such as technical assistance, Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs), Corrective Action Plans (CAPs), award suspension, or award termination, to highlight concerns and provide opportunities for recipients to get back on track.
To understand how rural South Dakota is, consider this: The state ranks 17th in the nation in terms of geographic size, but 46th in population - with fewer than 820,000 people, according to the 2010 Census. In some parts of South Dakota, the distance between farmsteads can be six miles. Cattle outnumber people four to one.
For telecommunications companies, the state’s sparse population means that there are not enough customers in many places to enable them to recoup costly investments in advanced telecommunications networks needed to deliver high-speed Internet service.
But even in the most remote corners of the country, access to broadband is becoming critical to fully participating in today’s digital society and information-age economy.
That’s why NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program awarded a $20.6 million grant to SDN Communications just over three years ago to bring broadband to parts of South Dakota that otherwise might never get it. The grant was one of the first to be announced in the $4 billion BTOP program, which is investing in roughly 230 projects nationwide that are building the technology infrastructure and skills that America needs to compete in the 21st century.
SDN Communications, a partnership of 27 independent telecom carriers covering 80 percent of South Dakota, is using its BTOP funding to expand its 1,850-mile, 800-gigabit fiber network by almost 400 additional miles and add an additional 100 gigabits of bandwidth along high-capacity routes.
The project is bringing broadband connections to nearly 310 new anchor institutions, including schools, libraries, hospitals, clinics, public safety agencies, government buildings and National Guard facilities. It is also bringing faster connections to more than 220 anchor institutions already on the system.
Nearly two years ago, NTIA launched the National Broadband Map, and today we are updating it, as we have every six months since its inception. The map provides the first-ever detailed datasets of broadband availability across the country, and it would not be possible without a unique partnership between the federal government, states, and the voluntary participation of many broadband providers.
With funding from NTIA, made available by the Recovery Act, each state undertook a massive effort to locate broadband availability by census block, essentially dividing the country into more than 11 million distinct areas. A census block is the smallest unit of geography for which population or other data are available, and on average has a population of about 28 people. With these data, we can now see change at a granular and national level every six months.
NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) is hard at work in our Boulder, Colorado labs testing next-generation technology that will be used in a new nationwide public safety broadband network to be built by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).
Public Safety official participates in testing of digital LMR intelligibility.
Congress directed that the new FirstNet public safety network utilize Long Term Evolution (LTE) radio technology, a developing commercial network standard for broadband transmission. The public safety community identified LTE as the most promising technology to satisfy its growing need for advanced communications capabilities. As a result, ITS is exploring Voice over LTE(VoLTE), a digital protocol under which the network handles voice as just another form of data, over LTE networks. ITS is working with the public safety community to ensure that mission-critical voice transmission using this new technology is at least as clear to practitioners in field conditions as current technologies.
When the first digital Land Mobile Radios (LMR) appeared in the public safety market, firefighters reported that some of the unique environmental conditions associated with firefighting appeared to be problematic for digital LMR. ITS joined with other government agencies, the public safety community, and industry to resolve these issues through extensive laboratory research and testing with the direct involvement of practitioners and manufacturers. In anticipation of the move to public safety broadband, ITS several years ago began planning, designing, conducting, and analyzing tests to assess the intelligibility of voice communication over VoLTE in field conditions.
As 2012 draws to a close, I would like to take a moment to think back on some of the major things we’ve accomplished and then look forward to what we have on our plate for 2013.
Internet. In 2012, NTIA kept busy on issues spanning all areas of communications. On the Internet policy front, we focused on facilitating multistakeholder work on how mobile applications handle consumer data privacy. I commend NTIA staff and all of the interested stakeholders for their tireless work – seven meetings and five stakeholder-organized tech briefings – over the last six months to proactively address this issue. In addition to cultivating a multistakeholder model for consumer data privacy, we also devoted significant energy in 2012 to preserving the successful multistakeholder model for a free, open, and innovative Internet globally. This culminated in an NTIA team putting their personal lives on hold for a month and dedicating 24/7 to activities in Dubai for the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). The WCIT failed to reach consensus on revising the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), but the U.S. delegation never wavered in its commitment to protecting the Internet from top-down government regulation.
NTIA recently released the Third Interim Progress Report on the Obama Administration’s efforts to make available 500 megahertz of spectrum by 2020 for expanded wireless broadband use.
Tablet and smartphone use is growing at an astounding pace, revolutionizing the way Americans work and play by enabling anytime, anywhere accessibility to the Internet. This wireless broadband revolution enhances U.S. competitiveness, creates jobs and drives innovation. It is triggering the creation of innovative new businesses, providing cost-effective connections in rural areas, increasing productivity, and improving public safety.
America’s future competitiveness and global technology leadership depend on access to radio spectrum – the lifeblood of these ubiquitous, data-hungry wireless devices. That is why President Obama’s June 2010 Memorandum set a bold goal of nearly doubling the amount of spectrum available for commercial use by the end of this decade. NTIA is hard at work making that goal a reality.
The President’s memorandum also directed NTIA to take into account the need to ensure no loss of critical existing and planned Federal government capabilities and to explore innovative spectrum-sharing technologies.
Internet Protocol (IP) numbers underpin and connect broadband and IP-based network infrastructures. Without IP numbers, we could not attach computers and smartphones to the Internet, and we could not route traffic to and from those devices. Without an adequate supply of these numbers, we could not design cloud computing networks or the smart grid. As we move to a world of innovation where virtually everything can be networked to everything else, we need to ensure a sufficient supply of IP numbers.
When the Internet Protocol was first developed in the early 1970’s, few of the scientists and technologists involved could have predicted what IP would mean for network development and the incredible innovation it would spur. Version 4, or IPv4, was developed in the early ‘80s by the technical wizards of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Who would have expected that the 4.3 billion IPv4 numbers would not be enough for future networks? Who could have forecast the explosive growth of the Internet and the need for billions of devices to be attached to these networks? Thankfully, many of those same technical experts – being rather clever people - have been worrying about the size of the IPv4 number pool for quite a while. They began to work on the “next generation” protocol known as IPv6. And it’s good they did because we are running out of IPv4 numbers. As opposed to IPv4, IPv6 supports 340 trillion trillion trillion possible numbers – and it represents a new generation of technology for network growth and development and innovation.
As we continue to transition to this next-generation Internet routing system, it is important to clarify the United States Government’s (USG) position on the development of Internet technical standards and policies:
On the eve of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), we believe that it is the right time to reaffirm the U.S. Government’s commitment to the multistakeholder model as the appropriate process for addressing Internet policy and governance issues. The multistakeholder model has enabled the Internet to flourish. It has promoted freedom of expression, both online and off. It has ensured the Internet is a robust, open platform for innovation, investment, economic growth and the creation of wealth throughout the world, including in developing countries.
There are those who may suggest next week in Dubai - and in future venues where Internet policy is discussed - that the United States controls the Internet. Alternatively, they may suggest that in the future governments alone should run the Internet. Our response is grounded in the reality that this is simply not the case. The Internet is a decentralized network of networks and there is no one party – government or industry – that controls the Internet today. And that’s a good thing.
The Internet’s decentralized, multistakeholder processes enable us all to benefit from the engagement of all interested parties. By encouraging the participation of industry, civil society, technical and academic experts, and governments from around the globe, multistakeholder processes result in broader and more creative problem solving. This is essential when dealing with the Internet, which thrives through the cooperation of many different parties.
The global community has many serious topics to discuss with respect to the Internet. Collectively, we need to ensure that these matters are taken up in suitable multistakeholder venues so that these discussions are well informed by the voices of all interested parties.
While stuck in construction traffic the other day, I thought of the old cliché that there are only two seasons – winter and road construction. But after visiting the Central Valley Independent Network’s (CVIN) offices in Fresno, California this summer, I would add broadband construction as a third season.
For CVIN and all other Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) projects, summer is a time to build. Whether it’s hanging fiber on utility poles or trenching, plowing, and drilling underground, our awardees and their construction crews are busy at work.
Broadband is a world of extremes: it takes heavy-duty, 10-ton equipment to install fiber strands that are as small as a human hair. It takes months and years of hot, sweaty, dust-filled workdays to build a network that will provide massive amounts of data to end users at speeds measured in millionths of a second. It takes hundreds of man-hours, at a pace of 1000 feet per day to install the fiber that will connect our schools and hospitals with resources on the other side of the planet with just the click of a mouse.
At the second privacy multistakeholder meeting regarding mobile application transparency held August 22, stakeholders made substantial progress on procedural issues to move this process forward. Poll results from the meeting are available here. NTIA grouped the poll results into three categories: “general support,” “mixed views,” and “general opposition.” These categories are our rough groupings, and are certainly not binding. However, we think that they are helpful in identifying stakeholders’ initial priorities moving forward. Stakeholders are welcome to propose concrete suggestions on procedural topics from any category.
This Wednesday, stakeholders will meet again, with two main goals. First, stakeholders will develop an initial priority list for substantive elements that might be included in a code of conduct for mobile application transparency. Second, stakeholders will propose concrete procedural steps that the group can take to implement the top priority substantive elements.
In an effort to support stakeholders, NTIA has organized the substantive elements previously raised by the group into four categories. We hope that these rough categories will assist in stakeholders’ review of their previous work and streamline the discussion of substantive elements at the August 29 meeting. Stakeholders are, of course, encouraged to propose changes to the categories if they believe a different structure would be superior.