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Progress Report: American Broadband Initiative Turns One

Federal agencies have made significant progress across government to improve broadband access for Americans in the year following the launch of the American Broadband Initiative (ABI), said speakers in a recent NTIA BroadbandUSA webinar. The Trump Administration announced the launch of the initiative in February 2019 with the release of the Milestones Report, which outlined commitments made by federal agencies to improve broadband resources.

“Extending broadband to all parts of America is a major Administration priority, and the ABI is an important part of our overall strategy,” said Greg Watson, Policy Advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The White House plays a leading role on the ABI and is working to streamline the federal permitting process, leverage federal assets for deployment, and maximize the impact of federal funding, Watson said.

Chad Rupe, Administrator of USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, said that USDA has developed streamlined permitting processes with the revised SF-299, enabling it to become a “common application form,” and released a mapping tool showing communications sites on Forest Service land. Rupe also shared updates from its ReConnect program, which offers loans and grants to expand broadband service to rural areas without sufficient access to broadband. ReConnect is currently in its second round, and its application deadline was extended to March 31. To date, ReConnect has provided over $600,000,000 to 31 states and territories.

The Department of the Interior reported on developing its Joint Overview-Established Locations (JOEL) Map, which helps users get information on DOI communications assets on federally managed land that may be leveraged to deploy broadband to communities in need. DOI has also been proposing rule changes for streamlining broadband use on public lands while ensuring proper National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis, said Karen Montgomery, National Program Lead, Hydropower & Communication Sites at the Bureau of Land Management. The agency is looking forward to soon accepting electronic filings of the updated SF-299, she said.

Additional progress on broadband mapping is underway at NTIA, said Andy Spurgeon, Chief of Operations for NTIA’s BroadbandUSA. He provided an update on the National Broadband Availability Map (NBAM), which was launched in September 2019. The NBAM is a platform for developing visualizations of broadband data at various geospatial levels from multiple federal, state, and commercial sources. The map will support broadband planning, funding, and implementation for state and federal policymakers. Thirteen states are participating in the first phase of the project, and plans are underway to add business intelligence and machine learning features to help its users develop better insights on coverage gaps, Spurgeon said.

BroadbandUSA hosts monthly webinars on a variety of broadband topics. Follow us on Twitter @NTIAgov to get updates on NTIA and BroadbandUSA’s work.