Since the launch of the American Broadband Initiative (ABI) in February of 2019, several federal agencies aligned with the initiative have reported significant headway toward improving America’s broadband resources.
According to a recent progress report released by the National Telecommunications and Information Association (NTIA), the National Broadband Availability Map (NBAM) was launched in September 2019, to support broadband planning, funding, and implementation for state and federal policymakers. The platform supports visualizations of broadband data at various geospatial levels from multiple federal, state, and commercial sources. According to Andy Spurgeon, Chief of Operations for NTIA’s BroadbandUSA, thirteen states are participating in the first phase of the project and plans are underway to add business intelligence and machine learning to help users develop better insights on coverage gaps.
Speaking in a recent NTIA BroadbandUSA webinar, Greg Watson, Policy Advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), noted the key position of the White House to streamline the federal permitting process, leverage federal assets for deployment, and maximize the impact of federal funding. “Extending broadband to all parts of America is a major Administration priority, and the ABI is an important part of our overall strategy,” said Watson.
The USDA also lauded progress made on several of its initiatives. A ‘common application form’ was created to streamline permitting processes through the March 6 revision of SF-299 and the department released a mapping tool that tracks communications sites on Forest Service land. Chad Rupe, Administrator of USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, also provided updates about its ReConnect program during the webinar. According to Rupe, ReConnect has provided over $600,000,000 in loans and grants to 31 states and territories to expand broadband service to rural areas without sufficient access to broadband. Currently in its second round, the program extended its application deadline March 31.
Lastly, Karen Montgomery, National Program Lead, Hydropower & Communication Sites at the Bureau of Land Management, said the Department of the Interior (DOI) is proposing rule changes for streamlining broadband on public lands while ensuring appropriate National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) policies. Also in process at the DOI is Joint Overview-Established Locations (JOEL) Map, designed to provide information on DOI communications assets on federally managed land that may aid in the deployment of broadband to communities in need.
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