Originally published: October 7, 2009
Last updated: March 7, 2011 - 4:15pm
Broadband stimulus money watchers and recovery plan tea leaf readers are cheering news of the first winners of the Department of Commerce's grants program for broadband mapping projects. They're pleased that the recipients are independent state agencies rather than groups affiliated with the telco/cable-backed non-profit Connected Nation. "We hope that trend continues," Connected's outspoken critic Art Brodsky at Public Knowledge told us. Other observers think that it will. What made these applications stand out? The applicants handed in "well-formed proposals" that were "fiscally prudent" and could serve "as a model for others," explained National Telecommunications & Information Administration boss Larry Strickling. But that's sort of a "duh"—the minimum that any government program should expect. More tellingly, NTIA praised these proposals for three additional qualities. Significantly, while the applicants plan to collect broadband use data from ISPs, "each also described plans to collect or utilize data from other sources," the agency explained. "Examples include wireless propagation models, speed tests, online and field surveys, and drive testing." They also pledged to use a variety of verification methods to test the accuracy of their data, and work with an array of state agencies to get the job done.
Hovering over this discussion, of course, is the question of whether the task of national broadband mapping will be dominated by the Connected Nation group or by a consortium of NTIA-funded state entities that go out and dig up their own mapping content. Connected's detractors warn that its strategy "is to accept public funds for collecting information from its sponsors which is then kept largely private, hidden behind strict non-disclosure agreements. This privatized data gathered with public money is a violation of the public trust." Connected Nation defends its reliance on confidential arrangements with providers, arguing that it limits its non-disclosure data to "highly sensitive network infrastructure information," which it protects "in order to protect the physical integrity of the backbone of the United States' communications system—an issue of homeland security." The group also says it wants to defend the "proprietary infrastructure and equipment information" of providers. Needless to say, it's pretty early in the game to predict where NTIA will actually go with this next. The agency still has a slew of bids to process, and Connected and its affiliates have eligible applications in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
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