What Can the Government Do to Expand Broadband’s Reach (in 30 Questions)?

President Barack Obama’s Broadband Opportunity Council asking the public for input in helping to identify regulations and other barriers that are hampering deployment of broadband.

How can the federal government best promote coordination and use of federally-funded broadband assets?

What regulatory barriers exist within the agencies of the Executive Branch to the deployment of broadband infrastructure?

Are there specific regulations within the agencies of the Executive Branch that impede or restrict competition for broadband service?

How can communities and regions incentivize service providers to offer broadband services, either wired or wireless, in rural and remote areas?

What can the federal government do to make it easier for state, local, and tribal governments or organizations to access funding for broadband?

These are the overarching questions asked by President Barack Obama’s Broadband Opportunity Council in a Public Notice released this week. The Council, created in a March 2015 Presidential Memorandum, is made up of 25 federal agencies and charged with developing a framework of recommendations to explore ways to remove unnecessary regulatory and policy barriers, incentivize investment, and align funding polices and decisions to support broadband access and adoption. In the Memorandum, the President made it the official policy of the Federal Government to: identify and address regulatory barriers that may unduly impede either wired broadband deployment or the infrastructure to augment wireless broadband deployment; encourage further public and private investment in broadband networks and services; promote the adoption and meaningful use of broadband technology; and otherwise encourage or support broadband deployment, competition, and adoption in ways that promote the public interest.

The Departments of Agriculture and Commerce -- which are co-chairing the Council -- are asking the public for input in helping to identify regulations and other barriers that are hampering deployment of broadband. The Council also is seeking recommendations on ways to promote public and private investment in broadband and get a better understanding of the challenges facing areas that lack access to broadband.

The Council seeks responses to some 30 questions by June 10, 2015.

The 30 Questions

The Council’s Public Notice includes 30 specific questions and asks commenters to reply with specific goals, actions the Administration might take to achieve those goals, the benefits and costs associated with the action, whether the proposal is inter-agency or agency-specific, the rationale and evidence to support it, and the roles of other stakeholders. Specific, actionable proposals for policy mechanisms directed to the Executive Branch agencies included in the Council are most useful, the Notice reads.

A. Overarching Questions

1. How can the federal government promote best practices in broadband deployment and adoption? What resources are most useful to communities? What actions would be most helpful to communities seeking to improve broadband availability and use?

2. How can the federal government best promote the coordination and use of federally-funded broadband assets?

3. What federal regulations and/or statutes could be modernized or adapted to promote broadband deployment and adoption?

4. As the federal government transitions to delivering more services online, what should government do to provide information and training to those who have not adopted broadband? What should the federal government do to make reasonable accommodations to those without access to broadband?

5. How can the federal government best collaborate with stakeholders (state, local, and tribal governments, philanthropic entities, industry, trade associations, consumer organizations, etc.) to promote broadband adoption and deployment?

B. Addressing Regulatory Barriers to Broadband Deployment, Competition, and Adoption

6. What regulatory barriers exist within the agencies of the Executive Branch to the deployment of broadband infrastructure?

7. What federal programs should allow the use of funding for the deployment of broadband infrastructure or promotion of broadband adoption but do not do so now?

8. What inconsistences exist in federal interpretation and application of procedures, requirements, and policies by Executive Branch agencies related to broadband deployment and/or adoption, and how could these be reconciled? One example is the variance in broadband speed definitions.

9. Are there specific regulations within the agencies of the Executive Branch that impede or restrict competition for broadband service, where residents have either no option or just one option? If so, what modifications could agencies make to promote competition in the broadband marketplace?

10. Are there federal policies or regulations within the Executive Branch that create barriers for communities or entities to share federally-funded broadband assets or networks with other non-federally funded networks?

11. Should the federal government promote the implementation of federally-funded broadband projects to coincide with other federally-funded infrastructure projects? For example, coordinating a broadband construction project funded by USDA with a road excavation funded by DOT?

C. Promoting Public and Private Investment in Broadband

12. How can communities/regions incentivize service providers to offer broadband services, either wired or wireless, in rural and remote areas? What can the federal government do to help encourage providers to serve rural areas?

13. What changes in Executive Branch agency regulations or program requirements could incentivize last mile investments in rural areas and sparsely populated, remote parts of the country?

14. What changes in Executive Branch agency regulations or program requirements would improve coordination of federal programs that help communities leverage the economic benefits offered by broadband?

15. How can Executive Branch agencies incentivize new entrants into the market by lowering regulatory or policy barriers?

D. Promoting Broadband Adoption

16. What federal programs within the Executive Branch should allow the use of funding for broadband adoption, but do not do so now?

17. Typical barriers to broadband adoption include cost, relevance, and training. How can these be addressed by regulatory changes by Executive Branch agencies?

E. Issues Related to State, Local, and Tribal Governments

18. What barriers exist at the state, local, and/or tribal level to broadband deployment and adoption? How can the federal government work with and incentivize state, local, and tribal governments to remove these barriers?

19. What federal barriers do state, local, and tribal governments confront as they seek to promote broadband deployment and adoption in their communities?

20. What can the federal government do to make it easier for state, local, and tribal governments or organizations to access funding for broadband?

21. How can the federal government support state, local, and tribal efforts to promote and/or invest in broadband networks and promote broadband adoption? For example, what type of capacity-building or technical assistance is needed?

F. Issues Related to Vulnerable Communities and Communities With Limited or No Broadband

22. How can specific regulatory policies within the Executive Branch agencies be altered to remove or reduce barriers that prevent vulnerable populations from accessing and using broadband technologies? Vulnerable populations might include, but are not limited to, veterans, seniors, minorities, people with disabilities, at-risk youth, low-income individuals and families, and the unemployed.

23. How can the federal government make broadband technologies more available and relevant for vulnerable populations?

G. Issues Specific to Rural Areas

24. What federal regulatory barriers can Executive Branch agencies alter to improve broadband access and adoption in rural areas?

25. Would spurring competition to offer broadband service in rural areas expand availability and, if so, what specific actions could Executive Branch agencies take in furtherance of this goal?

26. Because the predominant areas with limited or no broadband service tend to be rural, what specific provisions should Executive Branch agencies consider to facilitate broadband deployment and adoption in such rural areas?

H. Measuring Broadband Availability, Adoption, and Speeds

27. What information about existing broadband services should the Executive Branch collect to inform decisions about broadband investment, deployment, and adoption? How often should this information be updated?

28. Are there gaps in the level or reliability of broadband-related information gathered by other entities that need to be filled by Executive Branch data collection efforts?

29. What additional research should the government conduct to promote broadband deployment, adoption, and competition?

30. How might the federal government encourage innovation in broadband deployment, adoption, and competition?

Conclusion: How to Add Your Voice to the Discussion

The Council’s request for comment offers an opportunity for all interested parties to share their perspectives and recommend actions the federal government can take to promote broadband deployment, adoption, and competition, including by identifying and removing regulatory barriers unduly impeding investments in broadband technology. To add your voice to the discussion, e-mail your responses to [email protected] by 5 pm Eastern time on Wednesday, June 10, 2015 (include Broadband Opportunity Council in the subject line). [For more details on how to submit comments, see the Council’s Public Notice]


By Kevin Taglang.