The Need for Connectivity and Speed: NTIA Has a Big Responsibility to Small Business

By at 4 February, 2022, 2:55 pm

By Karen Kerrigan

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is being tasked with a big responsibility – overseeing the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) as it relates to the broadband piece of the big package. This is a $48 billion dollar effort – funded with taxpayer dollars, of course – where the NTIA will craft the framework and rules for implementation.

The NTIA has a big responsibility to small businesses to get this right, as the allocation of dollars represents an opportunity for many communities and local businesses to finally get connected to the digital economy, which is critical to growth opportunities and long-term viability.

The NTIA is currently taking comments on IIJA implementation, and of course SBE Council took the opportunity to weigh in. After all, as I note in my comments, broadband access “is critical to small business success and growth, and the health of inclusive U.S. entrepreneurship and the economy in general.”

Technology and telecommunications policy are core issues that SBE Council has worked on since our founding. Participation in the digital economy – with all of its tools and opportunities – boosts innovation, new startups and new revenue opportunities for existing small businesses. As we’ve seen during the pandemic, access to broadband and technology platforms saved untold millions of businesses. So, all businesses need access to these digital tools through broadband, and hopefully NTIA will construct a framework that promotes the efficient and smart use of these funds, which in the end will mean reasonably quick deployment and access for unserved small businesses and communities.

As I wrote in my comments, both the Broadband Equity, Access, and Development (BEAD) and Digital Equity Planning Grant programs represent a critical opportunity to greatly narrow the digital divide, “Therefore taxpayer resources dedicated through IIJA must be allocated with great efficiency and care to ensure digital connectivity is maximized through these programs.”

Indeed, NTIA needs to adopt simple, transparent rules and common-sense principles to ensure the effectiveness of these programs, and to avoid waste and abuse of funds. As noted in the comments, these rules should promote:

● Uniformity across states to ensure consistency,

● Transparency and strong accountability in the use and deployment of funds,

● Partnerships with reliable providers,

● Adherence to the guardrails included in IIJA, including no mandates and creative restrictions – the focus must be on access and adoption,

● USF reform driven by user-friendly features for consumers that are uniform, simple, provide choice, and allow for low-cost offerings as a qualifying plan,

● And simplicity and clarity in the rules in general to ensure deployment and access occur with reasonable speed.

Just as there is the need for speed in broadband connectivity, there is a need for speed in allocating broadband dollars to ensure small businesses and communities lacking access are not left behind as the digital economy surges forward. Again, transparent, simple and common-sense rules will help foster the expeditious allocation of resources and deployment. These are the type of rules and the outcome NTIA must strive to attain.

Many small businesses continue to wait, and wait, for broadband. And as I emphasized in my comments, “small businesses in rural and non-served areas of the country cannot wait another two, five, or ten years.”

As our chief economist Raymond Keating noted in a recent analysis of metro jobs numbers regarding the “unevenness” of the job recovery from the pandemic, it is clear that rural America is suffering. Even with the migratory changes of people during the pandemic, Keating writes: “Rural America continues to face considerable challenges in terms of attracting people and businesses, and generating economic, income and employment growth.”

There is no doubt that broadband is a critical solution to economic development in these areas, and offers a key lifeline for hope and opportunity. Again, the quality of NTIA’s process and rules that eventually shape the implementation of the broadband programs will be critically important. Indeed, NTIA has a big responsibility to small businesses and many are desperately hoping they are successful. Their livelihoods depend on successful implementation and fast deployment to communities most in need.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.   



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