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7/28/2009
05:37 PM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
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Strickling To Incumbent Carriers: Put Up Or Shut Up

In a small but important victory for public-private applicants, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) chief Larry Strickling told incumbent carriers that they'll have to prove their cases just like everyone else if they want to challenge broadband grant proposals from smaller players.

In a small but important victory for public-private applicants, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) chief Larry Strickling told incumbent carriers that they'll have to prove their cases just like everyone else if they want to challenge broadband grant proposals from smaller players."The good guys win one," said Craig Settles, a broadband and mobile strategy consultant. According to Settles, this new interpretation of the rules represents a "major win for communities and smaller service providers, and for those of us fighting several of the rules that put consumer interests at a disadvantage."

The issue addressed by Strickling is a clause allowing incumbent carriers to challenge proposals on the grounds that they already operate in the area to be served by the proposal. While Strickling didn't ban the challenge process outright, he said during a workshop in Charlottesville, Va., that incumbent carriers would have to corroborate their challenges with maps of their service regions. As Ryan Womack of Broadband Census reported:

broadband incumbents that seek to challenge broadband applicants who argue that their areas are "underserved" will have to make such information public - and in the same format as the broadband data collection efforts underway nationwide.

That seems like a fairly obvious requirement, but incumbent carriers are very secretive about their service areas and typically require a signed non-disclosure agreement before allowing people to see their coverage maps.

It remains to be seen whether the benefit of staving off certain proposals outweighs their paranoid impulses, but the betting here is that they're so afraid of allowing a significant new rival to emerge from the morass of rural service providers that they'll be willing to part their kimonos a little.

Settles told me there's currently no mechanism for the applicants to counter-challenge, but gave kudos to Strickling for using workshops like the one in Charlottesville to hear complaints and questions and address them on the spot.

"The 10-city road show is turning into a public comment period because they have no other vehicle to do it, and it looks like NTIA and the [Rural Utility Service] is responding as best they can. This meeting yesterday is an example of that," Settles told me.

Settles also said the NTIA should extend the deadline for submitting proposals by thirty days.

"The timeline is killing people, and they're just bailing on the thing," he said.

A poll on Settle's blog shows that a third of his customer base say there's no chance they'll make the filing deadline, a third say it's a fifty-fifty proposition and another third think there's a good or very good chance they'll manage.

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