Strickling: Work on Boosting Broadband not Done as BTOP Winds Down

With the “end-date” for using the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program funds allocated by the 2009 Recovery Act approaching later this week, the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversaw the BTOP initiative, said the program created jobs and increased economic growth in affected communities, but that more work needs to be done.

 Speaking on September 28 at NTIA’s Digital New England Community Broadband Summit in Maine, NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling said that the BTOP projects had laid or upgraded more than 114,000 miles of broadband infrastructure, “most of it fiber.”

“[C]ommunities that received our broadband grant funds experienced an estimated 2 percent greater growth in broadband availability than non-grant communities. The report also concluded that the additional broadband infrastructure built by our grantees could be expected to create more than 22,000 long-term jobs and generate more than $1 billion in additional household income each year,” Mr. Strickling said.

He cited BTOP projects in the summit’s host state, including the Three-Ring Binder project that created “1,100 miles of dark-fiber network across the state consisting of three interconnecting fiber rings.” However, he said that the broadband speeds required for various applications will only increase, and “we’re going to be constantly chasing a goal that gets larger and larger.”

“Even though the Recovery Act grant program is complete, President Obama has continued to emphasize the importance of broadband,” Mr. Strickling, pointing to, among other things, the Broadband Opportunity Council recommendations unveiled last week (TRDaily, Sept. 21).

“One key action, which NTIA will spearhead, will be to create a portal for information on federal broadband funding and loan programs to help communities easily identify resources as they seek to expand access to broadband. This will help communities find broadband-related policy guidance, key agency points-of-contact and best practices. Today, I am pleased to announce that we have released our Broadband Funding Guide, which provides a roadmap on how to access federal funding to support broadband planning, public access, digital literacy, adoption, and deployment,” he said.

“We will also work collaboratively with stakeholders like you to launch a Connectivity index, which is envisioned as a public-private partnership effort to help communities benchmark their connectivity.  This will require working with our partners to design and implement. We welcome your input on this effort as planning takes shape in the months to come,” he added.

“My message to all of you here is – we are here to help.  We’ve learned a lot over the past six years overseeing this broad portfolio of broadband infrastructure and adoption grants.  We’ve learned that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that works.  Every community has unique needs and challenges.  Through our BroadbandUSA initiative, we are now leveraging that knowledge and expertise to help communities in their broadband expansion efforts. Do you need to sift through the labyrinth of government rules and grant programs? We can help. Do you need to learn the best way to design and deliver an adoption program in your community? We can help with our Broadband Adoption Toolkit. Do you need advice on how to plan for and attract broadband investment in your community? We can help.  Our technical assistance ranges from workshops and webinars to more personalized one-on-one community assistance.  Best of all, we are free.  So let us know what sort of help your community needs.  Our team will help you accomplish your goals,” Mr. Strickling said.

Also during the summit, Jim Nimon, executive director of Sanford (Maine) Regional Economic Growth Council, announced a 42-mile municipal broadband network to be built in the city of Sanford, as part of the Three-Ring Binder project.

During one of the summit panel discussions, Fletcher Kittredge, chief executive officer of Great Works Internet, spoke about the “Maine Model,” which he said emphasizes private-public partnerships, open access, and dark fiber.  “There are about eight projects you can look at that are following this model,” he said.

On another panel, Boston Chief Information Officer Jascha Franklin-Hodge said that although Boston was an early implementer of the “dig-once” policy, the aim was to prevent repeated disruptions from street excavations, rather than to minimize fiber deployment costs.  Consequently, “we have an unknown amount of conduit that belongs to the city.  The location [of the conduit] is on paper maps,” making it a challenge for providers to locate needed conduit, and “if you manage to figure out where the conduit is and you want to rent it, we have a rental model that incentivizes you to dig up the street and install your own conduit rather than rent ours,” he added, evoking a round of laughter from the audience. —Lynn Stanton,

Courtesy TRDaily