Digital divide grants closing out

The Bush administration's budget proposal for the National Telecommunications

and Information Administration practically zeroes out a program that brings

technology to underserved areas but includes funding for systems to improve

the agency's radio spectrum management.

Congress appropriated $42.5 million in funding in fiscal 2001 for the

Technology Opportunities Program (TOP), which NTIA administers for the Commerce

Department. In fiscal 2002, TOP received $12.4 million for matching grants

to state and local governments, schools, libraries and other organizations

through the program. TOP grants aim to close the digital divide by helping

recipients build networks and buy technology.

Last October, NTIA announced it had awarded $42.8 million in TOP grants

to 74 nonprofit organizations across the country and in Puerto Rico. For

fiscal 2003, however, NTIA is requesting only $224,000 for TOP to help close

out those existing grants.

TOP "was meant to be a laboratory of sorts, to show individuals how

to better use technology," NTIA administrator Nancy Victory said at a press

briefing Feb. 4. "Clearly that awareness campaign was successful, but awareness

is not the issue any more."

"This program has been successful, but is no longer necessary to stimulate

innovation in an industry that thrives on change and new applications,"

Victory said.

Most of the $3.3 million in additional funds in NTIA's $61.4 million

budget request is for the modernization of its Table Mountain Radio Quiet

Zone test facility in Colorado, which also supports research conducted by

Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology and National Oceanic

and Atmospheric Administration.

NTIA also has asked for $340,000 in new money to institute an electronic

filing system for wireless spectrum licenses and $285,000 to fund a collaborative

effort with the State Department and the Federal Communications Commission

to overhaul the management of the federal radio spectrum.

This effort, plus the system for spectrum license filing and management,

will improve NTIA's ability to meet the demand for wireless communication

systems and services, particularly in the public safety arena, Victory said.

"The idea here is to be more efficient, more effective, and to make

the [spectrum management] process less time-consuming for those outside

government," she said.

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