A month ago, we wrote a “cautionary story” about how the state of Texas was setting up the telecom front group Connected Nation to be the broadband mapper of choice.
The state did it by the book, albeit with a Request For Proposals (RFP) that fit CN like a glove. Guess what? The state of Texas has declared a winner. Guess who it is? If you didn’t guess Connected Nation, you’re not paying attention.
Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples was all atwitter in making the announcement. From the news release: “’We are excited about this new partnership,’ Commissioner Staples said. ‘Connected Nation will help Texas close the digital divide between urban and rural communities in our state. By creating a broadband map, we will learn what areas are unserved and underserved. This critical knowledge will lead to developing projects that bring high-speed Internet to all Texans, which will enhance economic development, expand educational opportunities and improve health care’”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) designated the Agriculture Department, consulting with the Public Utility Commission and Public Safety Commission, as the state agencies to carry out the broadband-related activities under the stimulus law.
To review, Texas put out a Request for Information (RFI) that asked for information from all prospective bidders, then put out a RFP that limited it to non-profit organizations, on the theory that was what the stimulus law and the Broadband Data Improvement Act law requires. Maybe yes, maybe no. Under the BDIA, a state agency can apply for the broadband mapping money, and then sub-contract the work to a for-profit company. Texas did it this way for a reason – to have an RFP tailor-made for Connected Nation.
Sadly, Texas isn’t the only example. Let’s take what happened not long ago in Kansas. There, Secretary of Commerce David D. Kerr created Connect Kansas and gave Connected Nation $200,000 to do a broadband mapping project that may or may not comply with the federal program. Kerr, coincidentally or not, is the former president of AT&T Kansas. Connect Kansas will do some rudimentary mapping, but now the state is looking for others to do more stimulus work, sources said.
Then again, take what happened in Nevada. Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) created by Executive Order the state’s Broadband Task Force and named Connected Nation as the state’s “designated entity” to apply for Federal funds for all of the stimulus broadband programs.
Nevada telecom stakeholders were invited to a meeting July 28 in Carson City (with a video link to Las Vegas) to meet the Connected Nation staff. The email invitation to the event was signed on behalf of Connected Nation by a prominent Nevada lobbyist, Jim Endres, the executive director of the government affairs group of McDonald Carano Wilson.
From the firm’s web site, here is part of his biography: “Prior to joining the firm in 2002, Mr. Endres was vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs for AT&T Communications of the Southern States, in Tallahassee, Florida. For AT&T in Nevada, he was assistant vice president of law and government affairs for 18 years, and prior to that, he was director of external affairs for Nevada Bell for several years. His career in telecommunications management began in Central Telephone Company in Las Vegas.”
Do we sense a pattern here?
What will the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) do when all of those Connected Nation proposals come flooding in full of confidentiality claims that give substantially less data than the intent of the legislation? Will NTIA reject them all? Where will that leave the states which sent them in?
NTIA has told state officials the information doesn’t have to come from carriers, but there is some difference of opinion about what the NTIA’s broadband mapping announcement says and what it means.
NTIA Dir. Larry Strickling was quoted by Broadbandcensus.com as saying he hopes carriers will waive confidentiality, and that there are other ways of collecting information.
Check us off as skeptical for the first. Telephone and cable companies have used every excuse to hide their information, up to and including Sept. 11. And on the second, as well. While there may be other ways of collecting information, it will likely take more time than the NTIA has set out, and some, such as the average revenue per user, will only come from carriers.
This is turning out to be a game of chicken, one industry source characterized the developing situation. Will NTIA yield or will the carriers? Does NTIA have the legal authority to compel data? If so, why didn’t they use it? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has the authority, but hasn’t used it effectively. If NTIA starts turning down mapping proposals from states on confidentiality grounds, it will need a Plan B – perhaps a do-over or extension of time.
So far, they haven’t indicated such a course is likely. But that decision won’t be made until after Aug. 14, when the mapping proposals come in.