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Strickling to NTIA, Completes Obama's Big Broadband Jobs

The nomination of Lawrence Strickling last week to head the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which advises the White House on technology issues, moves the administration closer to kick-starting its plan to bring broadband to the masses.

Jonathan Adelstein, a Democratic commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, was also nominated last week to head the broadband Internet program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Julius Genachowski was named earlier this month to chair the Federal Communications Commission. Together the three fill the top jobs charged with carrying out the president's goal.

Strickling is a well-known figure in Washington's telecommunications policy circle. He was the bureau chief of the FCC's Common Carriage bureau under the Clinton administration and was the chief regulatory and compliance officer at Broadwing Communications, a network carrier purchased two years ago by Internet network operator Level 3.

An early Obama supporter, he worked during the transition to oversee several policy committees and helped Genachowski and other tech advisers craft their technology and innovation plan that called for the creation of more broadband Internet lines to rural and other underserved low-income areas.

Under the new administration, the NTIA is expected to take a greater role as it oversees the distribution of $4.7 billion in stimulus funds to build high-speed Internet lines. The NTIA has also managed the nation's troubled transition from analog to all-digital television signals, a massive technology shift in broadcast and entertainment that had been rife with confusion and lack of funding under the Bush administration.

Strickling's appointment "will bring a wealth of experience and knowledge at a time when the agency is facing one of its biggest challenges," said Gigi Sohn, executive director of nonprofit group Public Knowledge.

Strickling is expected to work closely with the FCC, which was ordered to come up with a national strategy for broadband Internet in one year and to create a mapping program with $350 million in stimulus funds that details what carriers and Internet network services are available in localities across the nation. Adelstein at the USDA, meanwhile, has been charged with $2.5 billion in stimulus funds to bring broadband to rural areas.

With Obama's broadband plan spread between three different agencies, public interest group Free Press has raised concerns over coordination of the plans. Other consumer groups and analysts have said the amount of stimulus money doled out for broadband so far is short of what will be needed to bring broadband to all American households while also creating sustainable jobs growth and jobs retention.

With that, many are looking to the FCC to see what Genachowski will do with a federal phone fund to redirect about $7 billion each year for traditional phone service to high-speed Internet.

The Obama administration has said that stimulus funds for broadband is just a start to the administration's technology strategy. They say more is to come in the way of policy reforms and incentives to get carriers to build more fiber optic, high-speed wireless and the fastest cable networks.

By Cecilia Kang  |  March 30, 2009; 4:38 PM ET  | Category:  Cecilia Kang
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