Thursday's big story: President Obama will lay out his goals for wireless broadband during a speech tomorrow in Marquette, Mich. The target is to extend the next generation of wireless coverage to 98 percent of the population, as Obama announced in the State of the Union. Tomorrow, he will point to Marquette's next-generation wireless network as an example of what's in store for communities across the country.
What to watch for: The White House has said that its wireless agenda will reduce the deficit, so look for new details on how that can be accomplished. Expect some discussion of Obama's endorsement for a policy known as reallocation—a way to build a broadband network for public safety officials. What's most apparent is that the White House will stress the ties between wireless broadband, innovation, and job creation.
Meanwhile, back in Washington…
Broadband stimulus gets a hearing: The House Energy and Commerce Communications subcommittee will hold a hearing on the need for greater accountability in broadband stimulus programs.
Logistics: 10 a.m. in room 2322 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
Here's what subcommittee Chairman Walden told The Hill to expect: "Tomorrow’s hearing is an opportunity to examine how the broadband funds under the stimulus were used, whether they achieved their stated goals, and what kind of accountability measures are in place to protect the taxpayers’ interests. In short, we will begin to examine what worked and what did not to inform policy discussions of universal service reform and other issues going forward."
Walden previews draft legislation: "While not wanting to prejudge the answers to these questions before we hold the hearing, the draft proposal is also intended to spur a discussion about how we can reclaim unused funds from these programs and return them to the Treasury. Ultimately, it is a matter of good government that Congress affirmatively decide how these dollars be allocated, rather than having them shifted to new purposes Congress did not authorize.”"
Committee Dems say a bill may not be necessary, per a minority memo: "Under current law, if funds for an award became deobligated, NTIA and RUS are required to transfer the deobligated funds to the U.S. Treasury. It is unclear why legislation is necessary to ensure that this policy continues. Moreover, the legislation, as currently drafted, could unintentionally jeopardize ongoing oversight by OIC and the agencies by, among other things, limiting the flexibility of agencies to reduce the amounts of farads and scope of projects in order to fashion cooperative solutions to transfer the project to a new, more capable, entity; or by requiring a notification process involving the disclosure of sensitive information that could hinder the ability of the agency INspector General to investigate allegations of fraud and other criminal activity."
What ranking member Eshoo told The Hill she wants to see in all broadband bills: "The U.S. invented the Internet, but today the U.S. trails badly behind other countries in broadband deployment. Every hearing and all legislation on this topic should share the same goal—ensuring the deployment of broadband is done efficiently and creates access to affordable, high-speed Internet in every community. Our success in this effort is inextricably tied to our economy and our collective future."
Scroll down for testimony previews at the end.
ALSO THURSDAY—Public safety to round out Hill meetings: The officials, who are in town to lobby for a broadband network for public safety officials, have Senate meetings on Thursday. According to a PS advocate, they will meet with aides to Sens. Hutchison, Rubio, Kerry, and Johanns, among others.
Upton, a key holdout on the reallocation proposal, made no commitments during Wednesday meeting: Upton has not endorsed the reallocation proposal backed by PS. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are concerned about the pricetag. "There's commitment to work with public safety, but a number of issues they have to overcome" to support reallocation, a PS advocate said.
And Reid's staff? They expressed willingness during a Wednesday meeting to work with Senate Commerce Chairman Rockefeller to get a bill through, according to the advocate.
Backdrop: The FCC came up with a cheaper plan last year, but reallocation has been backed by the White House, Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, and House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King.
Bills, bills, bills: The PS advocate said the reintroduction of GOP reallocation legislation (McCain-Lieberman, King) may slip to next week.
House broadband stimulus hearing—quick previews of tomorrow's testimony:
Todd Zinser, Commerce Department OIG: He will testify on the challenges NTIA, the telecom arm of the department, had while it was doling out broadband grants. "BTOP presents challenges to NTIA...BTOP's mission is an as ambitious as its implementation has proven complex. For the department to continue effective oversight...NTIA will require Congress as a steadfast supporting partner," he says in prepared testimony.
Phyllis Fong, USDA OIG, will raise the problem of "significant ports of..resources [going to] funding competitive service in areas with preexisting broadband access rather than expanding service to communities without existing access." Fong will note that the OIG made 14 recommendations on how to improve the program, but the department only completed eight of them.
Gary Shorman, President of cable operator Eagle Communications in Hays, Kans., will testify about an over $101 million grant to the community, which is already serviced by Eagle and AT&T.