Stimulus Funds for High-Speed Internet Jammed Up in Washington

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People are asking, “Where is my high-speed Internet?”

The Obama administration knew that there’d be a lot of interest in the $7.2 billion for high-speed Internet projects it included in last year’s huge economic stimulus package.
The goal was to quickly create tens of thousands of jobs and connect millions of poor and rural communities to broadband, a technology that’s essential for economic development, modern medicine and education.
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But officials had no idea that the demand for the cash would be so overwhelming. They also were bombarded with questions and challenges from large cable and phone companies including Comcast, Time Warner Cable and AT&T.
The combination has swamped the agencies in charge and created a bottleneck that might threaten disbursement. After nearly a year, about 7% of the funds has been assigned to specific projects.
As a result, “There’s significant doubt as to whether the monies can be awarded before the end of September,” when the funding authorization expires, says Dan Hays, who directs the communications practice at consulting firm PRTM.
Officials scrapped their original plan to assign $4 billion by the end of 2009, followed by two more funding rounds. Instead they’re poised to hit as much as $2 billion when the first round ends this month, as they begin to consider applications to the second — and last — round up to March 15.
The effort to spend that money quickly but responsibly is like “trying to use a fire hose with a garden hose nozzle,” says Craig Settles, an independent consultant who helps companies develop broadband strategies. “Getting broadband to the American public is not going to be easy.”
Such concerns have trained a spotlight on two agencies grappling with the biggest telecommunications program either has ever handled. Congress gave the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) responsibility to allocate $4.7 billion. The remaining $2.5 billion is being handled by the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS).
The agencies say that they’ll meet the Sept. 30 deadline for allocating the funds.
“We’re expecting quite a few announcements in the next month and a half,” says NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling.
Affordable broadband
The grants are designed to address a real need: As many as 10 million households, representing about 9% of the country, “will have significantly inferior choices in broadband” in 2013, Columbia University’s Columbia Institute for Tele-Information said in a November report.
And people who live in rural communities are 29% less likely than the rest of the country to have a broadband connection, research firm Parks Associates found in two surveys.
In many cases people simply can’t get broadband at an affordable price.
“Without government loans or grants, it’s often too expensive to (lay broadband lines or build transmission towers to) reach such areas and still generate an adequate return,” says William Wallace, founder of rural wireless broadband firm DigitalBridge, a leading applicant. “They’re low-density areas.”
The broadband stimulus awards target areas that need the most help. For example, last month NTIA gave $33.3 million to a firm that will build a 955-mile fiber-optic network through an area in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula that includes 886,000 households and 45,800 businesses.
In December RUS awarded a $985,000 grant to a Bretton Woods, N.H., phone company that hopes to promote tourism by building out broadband services. The connections will enable people to stay in touch with their businesses while they’re visiting the area.
Officials discovered the magnitude of the problem they’re trying to address when invitations went out in July for applications for the first round of allocations. They received more than 2,200 requests, asking for a total of $28 billion, four times the amount up for grabs. Most included hundreds of pages of technical details about proposed projects that included build-outs of fiber-optic lines, wireless services, computer labs and municipal networks.
“We were surprised at the number of applications that we got,” says Strickling. “We had to have three reviewers review every application. That clearly became a challenge in terms of getting that process done as quickly as we could.”
On top of that, cable and phone companies flooded the agencies with objections to the proposed projects. “There are 11,000 public comments (about the funding applications), and I’m willing to bet that 9,000, at least, were a challenge or protest of one sort or another,” says Settles. “We’re at a point where it’s the general public’s interest vs. the entrenched incumbents.”
In many cases, challengers said that they already provide broadband in areas targeted by applicants for federal assistance. “You don’t want to fund projects that will be replacing private investment with government investment,” says James Assey, executive vice president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, an industry trade group. “That’s going to set broadband policy back and not necessarily scratch the itch you’re trying to scratch on the (economic) stimulus side.”
For example, Comcast, Charter Communications and AT&T questioned an application for $13.5 million to provide broadband services in Columbia County, Ga. And Time Warner Cable said it offers broadband to more than half of the homes in an area of southwestern Ohio and northern West Virginia to be covered by a $12.6 million application to build a 710-mile fiber-optic ring.
AT&T says that its filings were “not objections,” but “provided information about areas where we currently offer broadband service.”
Most of the big broadband companies did not apply for stimulus funds. The rules require recipients to open their networks to everyone and agree to network neutrality requirements, meaning that they can’t favor some Web services over others.
“It wasn’t worth the uncertainty,” Assey says.
Still, the protests against those who did apply for help added to the bureaucratic burdens.
“We take very seriously any claims that there is service in an area that we’re planning to fund, and we get to the bottom of that before we make any final decision,” RUS Administrator Jonathan Adelstein says.
Mapping out the need
Determining service gaps is more complicated than you might imagine.
“Because the United States has not taken (broadband needs) seriously until the Obama administration arrived, we don’t know exactly how many people are unserved” by broadband, or precisely where they are, Adelstein says.
NTIA has begun to fund projects that will draw maps showing which neighborhoods either can’t get broadband, or have access only to services that are relatively slow or expensive.
Assey says that it’s “a little backward” to move forward without better information. “It’s far more important that we do it right, than that we do it right now,” he adds.
It also will be hard to judge the effectiveness of the broadband stimulus effort, because it does not have clear benchmarks for success.
“We’re just not sure what money will come forth and how or if it stimulates jobs,” says Parks Associates CEO Tricia Parks. “We’re not even sure of the goal.”
Strickling says, “We’re learning as we go.”
While that’s taking place, the agencies tend to give applicants the benefit of the doubt when there’s a dispute over whether an area is covered. In addition to looking at whether a company serves an area, they consider the speed of the broadband and how many people subscribe.
That pretty much rules out satellite broadband services, which blanket the country but tend to be slow and expensive.
If the government considered only whether there’s a broadband service that could connect people in a community, then “many of our areas would not have qualified,” Wallace says. In some cases, as many as 80% of homes could get broadband. “But it’s adoption that becomes problematic,” he says, often because the existing broadband provider charges too much.
The NTIA made things easier for applicants last month. For the second round of allocations, it got rid of the requirement for funds to go to unserved or underserved areas, although Strickling says that projects that fill that need “will receive additional consideration.”
Some analysts say that while the funding approval process may speed up now, another change in the NTIA requirements may slow the process of connecting homes and businesses.
The agency says that it will focus on projects to build what’s known in the industry as the “middle mile” — taking the Internet from national trunk lines into the community — instead of the “last mile,” which connects people to the Web.
“It’s going to significantly delay the realization of benefits to the end user,” Hays says. “The applications and interest that’s been shown in last-mile solutions demonstrates a level of demand that the program isn’t meeting.”
Although Hays says he doesn’t know what accounted for the shift, the early protests from cable and phone companies “probably gave pause to NTIA and RUS about just how many last-mile applications they should fund. Middle-mile applications are less controversial.”
Regardless of how or why the change was made, the middle-mile projects make sense, Strickling says, because the infrastructure’s available to everybody and will “increase the chance that a last-mile project will be successful.”

The Obama administration knew that there’d be a lot of interest in the $7.2 billion for high-speed Internet projects it included in last year’s huge economic stimulus package.

The goal was to quickly create tens of thousands of jobs and connect millions of poor and rural communities to broadband, a technology that’s essential for economic development, modern medicine and education.

But officials had no idea that the demand for the cash would be so overwhelming. They also were bombarded with questions and challenges from large cable and phone companies including Comcast, Time Warner Cable and AT&T.

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Cranberry Harvesting Frenzy

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Loaded with health benefits and available in a variety of forms, the cranberry is easy to include in many nutritious recipes or as a standalone snack. Every fall cranberry bogs are flooded for the annual harvest. Go behind-the-scenes with the harvesters to learn all about the process…
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Adventures on a Canopy Raft

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A new viewpoint for research.

How do researchers study the tops of rain forests? One way is to use a canopy raft, which is flown up and settled on the very tops of trees.

Canopy rafts are extraordinary things. they’re basically enormous nets attached to an inflatable frame and are dropped onto trees from airships, resulting in a viewing platform like no other which can also be used as a base from which to hang using climbing gear. the raft above is the solvin bretzel, a new design by gilles ebersolt which due to its pretzel-inspired shape is both safer to use and more effective than older versions. researchers can spend days at a time on the raft (hence the tent) and due to its extremely light weight the trees are left unharmed…

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Fatal Flaw in Internet Being Exploited by Hackers

 Fatal Flaw in Internet Being Exploited by Hackers

The future of the Internet is now in jeopardy because of these freaks

Internet security researchers on Thursday warned that hackers have caught on to a “critical” flaw that lets them control traffic on the Internet. An elite squad of computer industry engineers that laboured in secret to solve the problem released a software “patch” two weeks ago and sought to keep details of the vulnerability hidden at least a month to give people time to protect computers from attacks.

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Coming Soon, Cars with an Internet Connection

Coming Soon, Cars with an Internet Connection

High speed internet connection coming soon to a car near you

American automobile manufacturer Chrysler has plans to equip its cars with a system that will enable people to surf the internet while driving.

The UConnect Web system is what the company says can bring wireless internet access to cars’ dashboards.

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The Sex Life of Slugs Hots Up the Internet

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Rare footage of two slugs mating from a nature documentary

No, we’re not talking about software bugs (though those viruses can indeed still rear their heads), but good old insects. There are, naturally, numerous scientifically minded sites like bugbios.com throughout the Web, but insects are also finding staring roles in the online entertainment world.

As is true with so much on the Internet, sex is what’s generating interest.

More than three million people have watched a YouTube video documenting the mating rituals of leopard slugs whereby two entwined slugs suspend themselves from a branch and fertilise each other in mid-air.
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WiMAX Movement to Transform the Internet

 WiMAX Movement to Transform the Internet

WiMax promises a whole new kind of fun on the web

As US technology giants including Google place a multi-billion dollar bet on WiMAX, backers of the wireless data-streaming format say it will radically change mobile Internet use.

A WiMAX network of the kind to be deployed across the United States by a joint venture dubbed Clearwire may render cable or phone line Internet obsolete and set the stage for free Google mobile telephones supported by advertising.

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Growing Up Online

Growing Up Online

Nearly all teens in the US have grown up using the Internet

Nearly all US teens ages 12 to 17 use the Internet, according to a September-November 2007 Pew Internet & American Life study.

The 94% of teen respondents who reported accessing the Internet are doing so frequently. Two-thirds of teenage Internet users (63%) reported going online daily, while 35% use the Internet multiple times per day.

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Is the Net Too Neutral?

 Is the Net Too Neutral?

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin

At the end of February, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a public hearing at Harvard University, investigating claims that the cable giant Comcast had been stifling traffic sent over its network using the popular peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol BitTorrent. Comcast argued that it acted only during periods of severe network congestion, slowing bandwidth-hogging traffic sent by computers that probably didn’t have anyone sitting at them, anyway. But critics countered that Comcast had violated the Internet’s prevailing principle of “Net neutrality,” the idea that network operators should treat all the data packets that travel over their networks the same way.

So far, the FCC has been reluctant to adopt hard and fast rules mandating Net neutrality; at the same time, it has shown itself willing to punish clear violations of the principle. But however it rules in this case, there are some Internet experts who feel that Net neutrality is an idea that may have outlived its usefulness.

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