Posted By: Adrian Herbst, The Baller Herbst Law Group, P.C.
On Monday, January 26, 2009 HR 1 was introduced to the 111th Congress. This Bill as an Act is cited as the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” (“Act”). For the full text connect to: http://www.rules.house.gov/111/LegText/111_hr1_text.pdf. For a summary of the broadband portion of the Act prepared by the Committee on Energy and Commerce, connect to: http://energycommerce.house.gov/images/stories/Documents/Markups/PDF/broadband%20stimulus%20language%20%28ec%29.pdf. Although the Act contains numerous provisions, with over 650 pages, and titles of importance to state and local governments, this article briefly describes the part of the Act which provides for broadband stimulus, including $6 billion for infrastructure development.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) is directed to create a national “broadband inventory map” that identifies the geographic extent to which broadband service capability is available. In addition, it includes the requirement that the NTIA establish “wireless and broadband grant programs.” The purpose is to provide for a comprehensive nation‑wide inventory of existing broadband and to establish grants that will stimulate the development of broadband infrastructure for economic development and the availability of wired and wireless broadband throughout the country. The needs and priorities will be identified by each state and at least one grant must be available in each state. The following provides a brief summary of grant funding and purposes:
· Grants will be available for rural open access broadband with 50% to be awarded no later than September 30, 2009.
· Grants for wireless deployment and broadband deployment for the development of basic broadband service and advanced broadband service capabilities.
· Grants to fund state broadband tracking initiatives; with the NTIA, to develop and maintain broadband inventory maps of the United States.
· Grants for wireline to be split 75% for advanced broadband in underserved areas and 25% for basic broadband in unserved areas.
· Grants for wireless to be split 75% for advanced broadband in underserved areas and 25% for basic wireless in unserved areas.
The Act requires the FCC to define in much greater detail the meaning of “unserved” and “underserved” areas. This should not be construed as limiting the extent of the grant program and, by way of example, NATOA has developed a list of projects that can be initiated in a matter of months, and completed within approximately two years. For the NATOA list connect to: http://www.natoa.org/policy-advocacy/documents/NATOACBBexamples.pdf.
It is important for state and local governments to begin to think about the importance of the Act and the broadband portion and identify state and local priorities. The time periods under the Act for submitting grant requests will, as currently written in the Act, be somewhat short as it is very clear that the intention is for fast action to enable rapid economic recovery. Further, the Obama administration has made it clear that this Act and the stimulus and economic recovery programs to be initiated by the Obama administration are absolutely essential for our national recovery, including jobs creation and business stimulation. This Obama administration has sent a clear message to Congress of the importance of taking action at an early date. An understanding of the Act and its relationship to state and local governments requires prompt attention to state and local government plans, and goals for economic development and improvement will be ready for submittal of an application for participation in the wireless and broadband grant programs.
There have been numerous articles regarding economic stimulus programs and the goals and policies of the new Obama administration. While the Obama administration has made it clear that this Act, and in particular the broadband portions of the Act briefly outlined above, are a good start, they do not meet the full extent of the administration’s goals for infrastructure development necessary for economic recovery as well as advancing the state of broadband capabilities throughout the country.
Our purpose in writing this brief overview of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is to bring to the attention of IMLA members and local officials the importance of the Act for state and local governments and to set the stage for subsequent articles about this Act that we will include as postings to the IMLA Blog as the Act winds its way through Congress and its ultimate passage.
Euphemistically called the “DTV Conversion”, 2/17/09 is D-Day for an estimated 15 to 20 million households which receive their TV “over the air”. These tend to be the most vulnerable and isolated citizens in your community: those who are elderly, poor and foreign language dependent.
Characteristic of so much else in the last 8 years, the Bush Administration has done it again—left a big pile of trouble for the Obama Administration to clean up. But there will not be enough time for the Obama folks to have much impact.
In the words of FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, “In your community, a lot of people are going to need help, but it’s not yet clear where that help is going to come from…. The DTV transition isn’t ready for prime time.” [Click Here]
Like a hurricane, this event was predictable for the last 20 years, as soon as the Federal Communications Commission and Congress determined that all television broadcasters should convert from analog to digital format signals. [FCC-08-56A1.doc] And the 85% of households “on high ground” should be OK, if still disrupted. Their major televisions are hooked to a cable television system or to a satellite television network and will not be directly affected. However, even in these households, multiple TVs may not be connected to the cable television system and they too will “go dark” if they can’t receive digital TV signals.
The remaining 15% of ALL households which do not subscribe to any cable television or satellite TV are going to have problems. Only a small percentage of these over-the-air households own a digital television. These households are least likely to be aware of the coming change, to have the technical savvy to equip their old analog TVs to receive the new digital signals, or to have the financial capability to buy the digital converter or to improve their antenna.
A prior “early roll-out” of the DTV conversion in Wilmington NC indicates the scope of the problem your community will experience. You should expect your share of 2.2 million households nationwide to seek help in the first days after the national transition deadline. And that’s the optimistic scenario. Again, in Adelstein’s words, “[In Wilmington] the problems led viewers to need either phone or direct technical assistance, which could take upwards of 40 minutes on the phone for each household.”
You need to alert your City leadership and to get local DTV assistance volunteers ready to go. A reasonable set of steps for your community:
1. Encourage tech savvy individuals to assist family members, friends, and neighbors with converter box installation.
2. Create a local phone bank with sufficient capacity to handle your share of the predicted 2 million phone calls in the days immediately following February 17.
3. Send speakers to Churches, community groups, and others serving the foreign-language and elderly communities.
4. Ask your local telephone company, cable and satellite employees to get involved on a local level with local phone banks and help people to install converter boxes and new antennas in homes.
Good luck to us all, and especially to President Obama on February 17.
 Some temporary emergency exceptions are possible in the so-called “Analog Nightlight” legislation. See Short-term Analog Flash and Emergency Readiness Act (“Analog Nightlight Act”), Pub. L. No. 110-459, 122 Stat. 5121 (2008). The bill, S. 3663, was signed into law on December 23, 2008
 Three things are needed to receive the new digital TV signals:
1. A NEW converter box that allows an analog TV to receive a digital signal;
2. A strong digital signal from the local broadcast tower;
3. Technical ability to self-install the converter box and make any needed antenna improvements.