The FCC issued a public notice last week inviting comment on the interagency agreement between the FCC, USDA and NTIA on coordinating broadband efforts. The comments will inform a report to Congress on findings and potential improvements to the agreement.
As per the public notice, the request for comment is in line with the Broadband Interagency Coordination Act of 2020 (BICA), which required the aforementioned agencies to coordinate on funding distribution for broadband deployments.
"Pursuant to the BICA, we seek comment on the effectiveness of the BICA agreement in facilitating efficient use of funds for broadband deployment," reads the public notice. "The agreement has established a formal channel for information sharing and coordination among the Agencies, bolstering the Agencies' existing dialogue, and has contributed to an expanded awareness of the details of funding programs. Commenters should address any suggestions for improving the effectiveness of this arrangement."
Specifically, the BICA mandated that the FCC seek public input on the following:
The effectiveness of the agreement in facilitating the efficient distribution of funds
The availability and interagency use of broadband deployment data
Any suggested improvements to the interagency coordination agreement
In line with BICA, the FCC, USDA and NTIA entered into an initial agreement in June 2021 to coordinate on the distribution of funds for broadband. In May 2022, they announced an additional agreement "to share information about and collaborate regarding the collection and reporting of certain data and metrics relating to broadband deployment."
'Fragmented and overlapping'
Overlapping federal broadband efforts and the need for more agency coordination was the subject of a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The report, commissioned in 2020, found over 100 federal broadband programs administered by 15 agencies and called the US approach to broadband "fragmented and overlapping."
Indeed, the BICA is just one piece of legislation passed in 2020 attempting to improve the federal government's assessment and subsidization of broadband networks. The Broadband Data Act, passed in March 2020, mandated an overhaul of how the FCC quantifies and maps broadband access in the US. A new map from the agency – which will determine how future federal funds are distributed – is still in the works and the subject of some industry consternation.
Noting the forthcoming new map, the FCC said it's also seeking comment on "whether there are other sources of data on broadband deployment that should be considered as part of interagency coordination efforts, as well as how these resources can be used most effectively by the Agencies and other stakeholders to promote efficient, effective use of broadband funds."
According to the public notice, interested parties have until August 16, 2022, to submit comments; after which the FCC is required to submit a report to Congress on findings and policy recommendations.
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