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After months of waiting, the Senate confirmed two key members of the Obama communications and technology team: new FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) director Larry Strickling (his official title is Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information). And not a moment too soon.
Here is what is facing the new leaders right now: NTIA (along with the Rural Utilities Service) is expected to issue its "Notice of Funds Availability" imminently for the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money, and that "NOFA" will include the rules for applying for the grants, as well as the conditions (like non-discrimination) with which a grantee much comply. As the richest grant of money (by many billions) the NTIA has ever made , there will undoubtedly be a lot of confusion and questions and general craziness. Fortunately, tech and telecom experts like Mark Seifert and Kevin Werbach are there to guide the process. Thank goodness for Strickling and NTIA that the DTV transition is over!
The FCC, of course, has to sift through the hundreds of comments and reply comments filed and come up with its National Broadband Plan to present to Congress in mid-February 2010. Thankfully, that process is being sheparded by former FCC Chief of Staff and broadband guru Blair Levin. The country is fortunate to have a person of Blair's stature and sharp mind on this critical and long-overdue plan.
Add to this many pressing long-pending items on the FCC's docket, like the white spaces reconsideration petitions, the resolution of the unauctioned 700 MHz D-Block, the Skype petition to require wireless providers to permit use of all devices and applications, PK's text message petition and special access relief, among others, some with statutory and judicial deadlines. Clearly, the new Chairman will have to be up and running very quickly.
But these short term items should not obscure what we expect to be (based on his testimony at his confirmation hearing) the Chairman's broader goals - to create an FCC that
can be a model for excellence in government, fighting for consumers and families, fostering investment and innovation, through open, fair, and data-driven processes—a 21st century agency for the information age.
Time to get to work!