20-minute ex parte meetings may be scheduled from March 20 – April 3

As we have previously reported, the FCC has no direct role in doling out the $6.8 billion available for broadband stimulus under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (what we know as the Stimulus Act). However, the FCC is charged with consulting with the Department of Commerce’s NTIA and the Department of Agriculture’s RUS in setting some of the basic criteria for deciding who gets the funds.  Among the most important issues facing the money-meisters in the next month are: coming up with basic definitions for “unserved” and “underserved” areas and “broadband” (how fast a speed must you provide to qualify and should different criteria apply to wired vs. wireless systems); what constitutes “non-discrimination” in the provision of broadband; and what network interconnection obligations (including net neutrality) should apply to program recipients. These are questions that the FCC has struggled with for years, but it and its friends at NTIA and RUS must now come up with answers in a matter of weeks. 

The FCC is therefore accepting written comments until April 13 on these issues – lightning speed for any administrative agency. It is also scheduling ex parte meetings with the staff limited to 20 minutes from March 30 to April 3. (Imagine a sort of administrative speed dating with a bell ringing every 20 minutes and parties running from one meeting room to the next.)    Although the FCC’s role is consultative, we do expect the FCC ‘s recommendations to carry some heavy weight in the final outcome of these definitions – particularly since current FCC Commissioner Adelstein has recently been nominated to become head honcho at RUS – so interested parties may want to weigh in. Read all about it here.