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Ask Me Anything! With Scott Woods @ U.S. Dept. of Commerce

Ask Me Anything! With Scott Woods @ U.S. Dept. of Commerce Banner Image

Jan 14, 2022

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About our Distinguished Guest

Scott D. Woods is the Director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives in NTIA’s Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth. He also serves as a principal liaison between the BroadbandUSA and OIGC program offices and key strategic partners and external stakeholder groups, including representatives from state and local governments, telecommunications companies, for-profit and non-profit corporations, and colleges/universities.

Prior to his new leadership role, Mr. Woods served as the Team Lead for the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program, a new grant program to provide $268 million in direct funding to expand broadband access, connectivity and digital inclusion to eligible Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges or Universities (TCUs), Minority-serving Institutions (MSIs) and the anchor communities upon which these institutions serve. Scott has worked directly to increase broadband access, inclusion and equity by managing the BroadbandUSA Technical Assistance Program and numerous broadband network construction projects under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) including projects in California, Arizona, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, West Virginia, Arkansas, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Prior to NTIA, he served as an Associate Attorney in the Telecommunications, Media and Technology Group at Bingham McCutchen LLP in Washington, D.C.

Scott received a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Urban Studies from Morehouse College; a Master of Arts in Public Policy (M.P.P.) from American University; and Juris Doctor (J.D.) from Howard University School of Law. 

Event Transcript

Justin Perkins: Alrighty, good afternoon everybody, my name is Justin Perkins, I'm a reporter with Broadband Money and I am here for an hour with Scott Woods, the Director of Minority Broadband Initiatives at the National Telecommunications and Information Administrations Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth. Here we are with Scott woods and we're so excited to have him because he's been a champion in broadband access across the United States, but even before that, he's been a leader in his community at Morehouse and at Howard University School of Law, I'm a Howard University School of Law grad of 2021, so I'm really excited to be able to talk with another graduate, but also to learn more about how the social justice mission that you've seen in your work and how you've taken that into your new role at the NTIA. So I'd really love Scott, if you could just talk for a few minutes about your leadership in the past, and how your past experiences have shaped you into the leader that you are today, and thank you again for joining us.

Scott Woods: Thank you Justin, and a good afternoon everyone. It again is my honor to be here with you, just to, I guess, briefly share my personal journey of nothing salacious, but again, just to share some insights into my development and growth, and then why I'm here, and the mission that we have here at NTIA to ensure broadband connectivity access and digital equity for everyone, including vulnerable communities. So if I can start off briefly, I'm originally from Detroit, Michigan, and grew up in a very loving, loud family [chuckle] from Detroit, centered around again, fun and food and family. And I left Detroit and went to Morehouse for college, and had a great experience at Morehouse, and as we talked about in sort of our pre-meeting, some of my friends, my greatest and closest friends are some of the gentlemen that I met my first day, my first week, my first semester in school, we're still great friends involved today, and I think the social justice sort of resignation started at Morehouse, if you will. I had an opportunity to participate in the... As a student intern with Mayor Maynard Jackson's administration, Atlanta had just won the Olympics, so this would have been probably in the '88, 1988-1989 time frame, I'm now dating myself a little bit and I was a freshman.

Scott Woods: And I'm really a beneficiary of mentors, I've had really good mentors who have invested and believed in me, and it started at Morehouse, and I had an opportunity to join the city government as a student intern under Maynard Jackson, and we were doing a lot of projects getting ready for the Olympics. Bringing Olympic infrastructure into the City of Atlanta, and luckily, people like Bob Allison and a really, still close mentor of mine, Muriel Mitchell Lawrence, invested in me and provided me opportunities and growth potentials and so I carried that on through my time at Morehouse and I went to the Olympics, and we had a great... Sort of putting a show together and infrastructure together for the Olympics. And then ultimately moved up here to Washington DC to go to grad school, I attended American University here in Washington DC as a Master's or a graduate student to pursue a Master's degree in public policy. And that was a great time 'cause I was in class with a lot of impressionable young thought leaders at the time, and then we all wanted to change the world, if you know.

Scott Woods: This was at the dawn of the Internet back in the sort of mid-90s, alright, '96, '97, '98 time frame for you young cats, [chuckle] right before Y2K that you might be reading, and we were prepping and doing a lot of things with the change of technology. And I've always been someone that... I was an early adopter of technology, so I don't know if... You may not remember this Justin, but there was a thing called a Palm Pilot, [chuckle] which predates the Apple phone and smartphones now, I had three or four iterations of the Palm Pilot when it came out. So I've always had an interest in technology and tech and infrastructure and connectivity, and then, so fast forward just a little bit, so after graduate school, and I've had an opportunity and I always wanted to go to law school, and I had a couple of choices but I chose to attend Howard University School of Law here in Washington DC, and that was a great... A really great experience for me to really ground in work ethic, and again, a beneficiary of mentors and people who believed in me and provided me with opportunities to grow and really integrate the mission of social justice and equity into the field of law, into the field of public policy, into the field of public discourse, in terms of how we view vulnerable communities, how we view people of color communities, how we view...

Scott Woods: Providing equal opportunity and access for everyone, and so that's where it was ingrained. And then while at Howard Law, I was on Law Review, and I did a case note on the impact of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. 'Cause in my mind, I wanted to be this grandiose anti-trust lawyer, and I wanted to take on cases of unfair practices. And so I did a lot of research and writing on that and as a result of that had an opportunity to join some law firms and did some work. Primarily a lot of the merger and acquisition work as a result of the '96 acts came through telecommunications companies. So that is where sort of my basis in telecom on the business and the law side, where that started.

Justin Perkins: Absolutely, Scott. And that's really interesting. And I wanna just touch on one thing that you said here about your personal experience, and that's the value of being the beneficiary of mentors, and this idea that mentors is really a support to the community and the community's efforts in allowing our youth and our... And the generation that's coming after us to be able to receive the benefit of wisdom and knowledge that can help our communities be even stronger. And that's one of the things that I think a lot of us public and private partners, when we're talking about broadband deployment, can learn from the community, is the successes and things that we could... That communities could improve upon, and often that involves teaching the younger generations about the successes of broadband deployment in the past and our technological revolution that we're going through now.

Justin Perkins: And another thing I wanted to touch on is the role of historically Black colleges and universities in this digital revolution that we're in today. Your role as the director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives, really working to partner with historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions to close the digital divide. Can you talk a little bit more about how your experience at HBCUs, Morehouse and Howard University School of Law have prepared you to lead with this community mindset in leading your office? 

Scott Woods: Yeah, absolutely, that's a great question. I think in part, we're all defined by our experiences. And I'm shaped by two experiences in my lifetime as an undergraduate student at Morehouse College, and the... So the illustrious history of the alums that have come through Morehouse, including Dr. King, who's our... Probably our most biggest and well-known alumnus. And then the legal giants that have come through Howard University School of Law, when you look at the Civil Rights Movement, and you look at all of the cases and the philosophy and the strategy around all of the Civil Rights cases, those lawyers came from Howard, right? They came from other places as well, so I'm not discounting those, but Howard University School of Law was an integral part of that. And so again, I think for me, the personal experience, the impact of belonging and feeling notions of equality and what that means as a person of color, as a man, as an African-American... Again, I think the first thing I learned right off the bat, this is also ingrained in sort of my family history, is Black history isn't just slavery and Civil Rights, it goes well beyond those particular aspects of our history into... And I've said this before, in philosophy, in science, in arts, in religion, in math, you name it. And so when you're ingrained in that, then you understand the sense of your history beyond just your immediate family, you're ingrained to achieve and want to achieve something greater.

Scott Woods: Now, I think that's the role that HBCUs and tribal colleges and universities and even minority-serving institutions play, is really for that support and that mentorship and that nurturing for students. And then as a country, we all benefit. And I think that's one of the things that we kind of rail against, is that you somehow think that because it's labeled an HBCU or a tribal college or a university or a minority-serving institution, that it's somehow substandard or less than, and that's not the case. These schools are working miracles with a fraction of the resources that larger State-sponsored schools get but are hubs of innovation, invest tons of money in economic development in their communities, and they need to have a platform and need to have resources so that as a country we can move forward and have an economy that works for everyone. And I think that's very important as we move forward through this 21st digital economy.

Justin Perkins: Absolutely. And I really like the point that you brought up about how HBCUs, tribal colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions can really be a resource, an anchor, a steadfast place for the community to be able to give back to the community, and as you said, be a hub for innovation. And that's part of the reason why I'm really excited about all of the broadband funding that's gonna be going to HBCUs and also the funding that has recently been approved for HBCUs as part of the connecting minority communities pilot program, which you led. And now, as a leader in the Office of Internet connectivity and growth office, and in the office of minority broadband initiatives, could you talk a little bit about how your office has been a leader in connecting a range of diverse communities. Because as you said, serving minority communities is not just serving HBCUs, there's really a diverse range of communities that need to have connectivity, and it's not just about ethnic minorities, but there's a range of demographics that, absolutely, critically need broadband access. So could you talk about, as you enter in this new role, how the office will be... Has been a leader in connecting the range of diverse communities that still need to be connected.

Scott Woods: Yeah, thank you. It's really reflective of the leadership and the career personnel at NTIA and the Department of Commerce. I think we're lucky in that we have really good career people, and good leadership, and leaders that come from a wide array of backgrounds. Public sector experience, private sector experience, government, State and local, philanthropic. And I think it all started, at least for me, under the BTSA program and understanding, and this was about 10, 12 years ago, and I can recall a time when I first joined NTIA, we were doing the outreach to, at the time, the grantees. We were doing all this on video conference... I mean, I'm sorry we were doing on teleconference, right? Not even video conference. 10, 12 years later, you can't even hold a meeting now, particularly in the pandemic environment, but you can't even hold a meeting now without a virtual platform... That wasn't even heard of 10, 12 years ago when we started. But I think it's reflective. The office's mission is reflective of the people who are made up, who are there. And I'm fortunate, I work with just fantastic people, both on the leadership level and on the staff and career level, they're just rockstars.

Scott Woods: And my team, in particular, are great. They're subject matter experts, they're experienced, they're passionate, they have opinions, we work well together. It's just a... It's really a great place. And I think what we bring to it is, we try not to think of the federal government as this bastion of ideas and we tell everybody what to do, but we're more so here to facilitate and to serve and to ensure we're addressing the needs of the people in the community and the institutions that need our assistance, that need the support. And I think we operate in that vein and in that framework in everything that we do. But I can't reiterate enough, there are just some fantastic, thoughtful thought leaders at NTIA and Department of Commerce as well that are thinking about and leading this effort.

Justin Perkins: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, I can't underscore enough the importance of having a strong team, and this is more important than ever with the facilitation of services, and the roll out of these broadband grant programs, other organizations are looking to expand as States and local governments are staffing up, they're getting ready for this new wave of funding. And so I just wanna dig into a little bit about how the Office of Internet connectivity and growth has changed, and so the Office of Internet connectivity and growth and the Office of Minority broadband initiatives was established recently in August of 2021, and so now the OICG now houses all of the NTIA's broadband initiatives. So the NTIA has really grown, especially as a result of this new effort with the IAJ, and so I would like to know, because this discussion may be important to... May be relevant to government officials, or private industry leaders looking to expand their own capabilities in their broadband offices. So as a leader in the Office of connectivity... Of Internet connectivity and growth, could you share some tips about how you maintained that team identity amidst the growth and new responsibility that your office sees now? 

Scott Woods: Yeah, thank you, that's a great question, Justin. And you can add on that, doing that in a pandemic [chuckle] environment is even more difficult. Yeah, as you surmised, we have exponentially expanded our, both our resources and personnel here, not only with the new programs, but with the previous programs that we have, but really paying attention to the broadband programs, the scale and depth upon which we have to implement these programs, we're growing at an exponential pace, and your core question is how do we keep that sort of team, and emphasis on closeness, that emphasis on professionalism, the emphasis on the mission, how do we do that, and it's really reflective on leadership, we have really good... A really good leadership team at OICG, which I'm fortunate to be a part of, we have a really good leadership team at NTIA and the Department of Commerce, and it really takes on the characteristics of the leadership. And again, bringing on good people, people who, and particularly in this environment, are self-starters, are subject matter experts. I feel really bad for some of our junior personnel because we really don't have a chance to indoctrinate them into the culture because we're not together, we're doing everything virtually, so I can't wait until we get into a posture where we can hopefully be back in each other's presence, but it is a challenge, Justin.

Scott Woods: I can't lie to you or the audience. It is a challenge that we have. But the fundamental question I come to, that I ask myself everyday is, how... No matter what you believe, spiritual, religious, philosophical, what guides you in your daily work? How does it manifest yourself? How does it manifest itself in your day-to-day? How does it show up? It can't just show up in one aspect of what you do, and so as a leader, we have to be able to model the correct behavior for the new employees that are coming on, for the existing employees who've been there and are doing the lion's share of the work. We've gotta set the right example in terms of tone and tenor, and setting the mission and having real clear strategic priorities and the like. And it has been a challenge in a pandemic environment to maintain that. But it is indicative of... I think our success has been indicative of the leadership and the leadership capabilities that we have. And one day this will be a case study on leadership, on how you put a staff exponentially growing your organization in a challenging environment, and I look forward to participating in that case study.

Justin Perkins: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And, I just wanna highlight one thing that you said, because having that unified message, having that unified voice for your office and for this agency is really important. Lots of people are interested in how this office is administering this historic funding, and so your attention to leadership and your attention to your team will carry this office far, I'm sure, in distributing this historic funding. And so, speaking of these recent funding opportunities, you recent... You just came from leading the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot program, prior to directing the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives, and the CMC pilot program is a $268 million program to expand broadband access and digital inclusion at HBCUs, TCUs and MSIs. And so now that the CMC application process has closed, are you able to talk, if only at a high level, about how this program could impact the communities that the institutions serve, the HBCUs and TCUs and MSIs serve? 

Scott Woods: Yeah, I can talk at a very high level, but we're still reviewing the application, so I can't get into too much detail. But again, the purpose of the program is, again, to ensure some investments into our HBCUs, TCUs and MSIs and their anchor communities that they sit and serve, 'cause these communities were hit hard with COVID, right? And so, for you and I and then others in the audience, our alma maters may have been able to flip a switch and move everybody to a completely virtual environment, professors are able to teach in a virtual environment, and staff and everything has gone through their virtual operations. But there are some schools that just couldn't do that. If they had the infrastructure, the students didn't have the devices, the equipment that they needed. If they did and they were relegated to be at home, 'cause we couldn't be on campus, they didn't have the connectivity at home. And so now, we're impacting our... The education of our young people, both with the K-12 level, as well as in colleges and universities, are now at the whim, if you will, of whether you have sufficient broadband access, connectivity devices, and are your professors and institutions trained and have the staff that they need to be able to host and house these systems? 

Scott Woods: So the program was born out of the necessity for that. As you are aware, we received over 200 applications, over $800 million in request for funding. We only have $268 million to give out for that pilot program, and it is indicative of the need that's out there. But I think it's a good thing in that, the basis of these plans can also be used, in my opinion, and should be used in our new broadband grant programs that are going on. So for those projects that may not be funded under this, could be used, or should be used, in my opinion, as a basis to form needs assessment and needs of the surrounding community and institutions under the new IIJA Broadband programs, specifically the BEAD or the Digital Equity Act Program. So, we're evaluating those applications, we're going through the process right now, we should... We'll be making hopefully, some award announcements later this spring, and then these programs will be able to kick off at these institutions, hopefully by the fall or before the fall of 2022.

Justin Perkins: Excellent, excellent. Thanks, Scott. And, a big part of the CMC pilot program and hopefully, the organizations that receive grants under this program are gonna be involved in public-private partnerships that will help really enhance the program's effectiveness. And so, speaking of public-private partnerships, we have a question from one of our viewers. This question is from Dan Lubar, and he's asking about... This is a multi-part public-private partnership question for you, Scott. He asks, "Will the funding from IIJA, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for digital infrastructure be a watershed event for public-private partnerships in the US? And will the NTIA be adding any incentives to those applications who are interested in developing and supporting public-private partnerships?"

Scott Woods: Yeah, thank you, that's a great question. I would pivot just little bit, because we're not intentionally being prescriptive with the requirements for these programs. So right now, we're engaged in several layer outreach campaigns. We just completed our public listening session number two, earlier this week. We have an active request for comment, comments that are up right now, where we're seeking... Actively seeking, excuse me, questions from, comments from the community and our stakeholders for all of these programs. And so, this is an opportunity, I believe, that we can get really good advice, really good comments, really good recommendations from the community, from our stakeholders on how we should shape these programs. These programs aren't shaped, the criteria are not done right now. And so, this is an opportunity for the participants here to participate in that. So go to our website. There're a request for comments. We have 36 questions that we ask you to consider and provide answers to. You don't have to do all of them, you can do some. But 36 questions, detailed questions on how NTIA should view what NTIA should do, what should the criteria of importance be in developing these programs.

Scott Woods: So this is an opportunity. When you talk about watershed opportunity, in my opinion, this is a watershed opportunity for stakeholders to submit comments, and you have my promise that we're going to review these comments we're going to take these comments into consideration and utilization as we develop and finalize the notices of funding opportunity, the criteria for each of these new broadband programs.

Justin Perkins: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, what I'm hearing is that the community is gonna have a really, really important role in the development of these broadband grant programs, and that's why your office is reaching out for comment, reaching out for communities and stakeholders, to really be able to help shape the broadband outcomes for their community. As we have a question from Jase Wilson, who is the founder of Ready. Jase, really excited to have you viewing and thank you again for all your hard work. He asks, "Scott, you've been a champion of broadband for communities and the community's role in shaping broadband outcomes. Can you talk about the role of community in the upcoming IIJA program?"

Scott Woods: Absolutely, Jase. Thank you. Thank you for that question. The idea of community is very important. As you look at the authorizing legislation for the IIJA broadband programs, particularly for the BEAD, the Broadband Equity Access Deployment program, the Digital Equity Act and the Middle Mile program, it specifically targets areas that are underserved or unserved. And so, that community focus on those areas that we know, just anecdotal data and data that we've collected, these are traditionally vulnerable communities, people of color communities, we know that. And so, to really understand, I think in my opinion, the role of the community is, this is the community's opportunity to provide information, to provide data, to provide feedback on what's needed in the community. And the way these programs will be structured, even though the money will flow through the state, the state plans that ultimately go forward, have to reflect the needs of the unserved, the underserved communities.

Scott Woods: And so, in my opinion, this is an opportunity for vulnerable communities, including HBCUs, TCUs, MSIs, to engage with their state broadband offices, to understand broadband connectivity profile and their needs. Again, this is where I think the CMC plays a really big role for HBCUs, TCUs and MSIs. But again, as we move forward into these processes, we have to make sure that the state and the state broadband offices are conducting the appropriate level of outreach to the communities, and they're reflecting the needs of the communities that will ultimately be the bulk of the plans that move forward to NTIA for consideration. So to Jase's point, this is an opportunity for really community-based, to really get at the needs of the communities in terms of digital inclusion, access and equity, and connectivity and infrastructure. This is our chance to get it right.

Justin Perkins: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And because we have this opportunity, what I hear a lot of you saying is that, it's really important for communities to give their input sooner rather than later, so that the NTIA can develop regulations that are really going to reflect the needs that these broadband grant programs are asking for. And so, we have a question here from Drew Clark, who's the editor and publisher of Broadband Breakfast. Drew, we're really glad to have you here. Thank you for joining us. He asks, "Scott, can you outline the timetable for Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act regulations for our viewers? The NTIA must put rules forward 180 days from the date of enactment and the date of enactment of IIJA was November 15th of 2021." So Drew asks, "Does this mean we will be waiting until May for some better timetables from the NTIA?"

Scott Woods: Yeah, I don't wanna get ahead of any announcements. I think we addressed some of this in our public listening sessions, but Doug Kinkoph addressed this this week. I think we're working on and plan to have a NOFO Notice of Funding Opportunity for the BEAD program, hopefully by May of this year, again in accordance with that 180-day time frame, and then the BEAD program shortly thereafter. And then obviously, the Middle Mile program will have its own NOFO. So those three programs will have their own NOFOs as well as the Tribal program, but the Tribal program money is actually gonna go into the existing Tribal program that was launched at NTIA last year, but it will have a new Notice of Funding Opportunity. So these are going to be sequenced. The largest of these is the BEAD, almost $43 billion for that, so I think you can look for that NOFO. But we've gotta get through the public listening and the RFC comments first. RFC, the Request for Comments, that period closes on February 4th. So again, I encourage everyone to look at the document, submit questions, submit comments and participate in that process, and then we'll take those into consideration and then produce those, at least that initial NOFO, I think in the... As Doug stated, in the May timeframe.

Justin Perkins: Right. Okay, so we're saying to viewers to look out for the NOFO and be prepared to offer your comments, because the NTIA, from what I'm hearing, Scott, really wants to hear from communities, to be able to develop these programs. So, really excited and looking forward to that.

Scott Woods: Absolutely. And let me add too, Justin, too. Communities, community advocacy organizations, service providers, those who are involved in the supply chain, the workforce, we wanna hear from this... To truly make this happen, we need an all hands-on board effort and we need partnerships across public sector, private sector, philanthropic organizations, we wanna hear from everyone, we wanna get this right, more than anything else, we wanna get this right, and we want to address and have and target the funds in the areas actually... That need them. And to do that, we need all hands on deck, we need partners across a number of different sectors and industries, and I think we can do it, and I believe in the process of collaboration and the process of partnership.

Justin Perkins: Absolutely. We've seen, especially over the past two years, the power of collaboration and what that can do for us not only as a broadband community, but as a nation, as a global community, and really using technology to be the next leaders. So that's excellent. And so, to our listeners, be prepared, look out for the opportunities to offer comment and to have your voice heard, because this is really important. And then also, for our viewers at Broadband Money, we're also going to have a discussion next Friday, about the questions that people have asked here in this discussion. Ben, if you wouldn't mind pulling up the visual here for us, so our viewers can see that next Friday, we're gonna have a discussion about the questions that people have asked here. So that'll be next Friday on January 21st, you'll be able to join our discussion about a lot of the questions that people have, that are still lingering, about these upcoming programs. And so, we'll just have that up for a minute. But in the meantime, Scott, this has been a really interesting discussion. I know our viewers are learning a lot, and so, I appreciate you being here and for offering some answers to a lot of the questions that people have.

Justin Perkins: We have another question from one of our viewers, and this question is from postgres Faloon from Broadband Money, and postgres asks, "How detailed does the NTIA expect the state's five-year plans to be given the expedited timeline? And so, I believe that there is an expedited timeline for the NTIA to get the programs developed. Could you just talk a little bit about, if you can, the detail that's required from the states in their five-year broadband plan? 

Scott Woods: Absolutely, and thank you for the question, postgres. Yeah, so the NOFO will contain the criteria, but as you all know, states will get a small chunk of money to staff up their broadband program offices, to conduct planning efforts, planning assessments and to conduct outreach. And so, we're not just asking states to do it without funding and providing resources to do that, and we're also calling on advocacy organizations in each state to be a part of that process. So even though, yes, it is expedited, we do expect the plans to be robust plans, based on the resources and the outreach that are required. Now, again, you all have known this from my talk before, we operated NTIA, a multi-stakeholder group for the State Broadband Leaders Network. We also operate a multi-stakeholder group, the Digital Equity Leaders Network. There are states that participate in our National Broadband Availability Map. I believe we are up to 40 states, of the 50 in the seven territories, so 40 states are participating in that. So there is a groundswell, if you will, there is data that is available, and then you also know that some states already have broadband programs and funds as well, for projects in their states. So we're seeking to build upon existing operations and resources where it's available, but we also recognize that some states will be building up capacity and resources from the ground up, and we're here to help.

Scott Woods: So postgres, to answer your question; yeah, it seems unfair. Yes, we are going to require robust plans in an expedited fashion, but we're also going to provide the resources to assist the states, and again, we'll figure out what that actually looks like, and based on the feedback that we see, we'll address that in the Notice of Funding Opportunity. But I anticipate that my office will play a role in that, the Office of Minority Broadband Initiative, at least on the community level, we'll have resources here at NTIA to assist in that as well, so... As well as with the state's efforts.

Justin Perkins: Great, yeah, absolutely. And there's one part that I wanna touch on, and is that... In state's five-year plans in developing their broadband plan for the next five years, public-private partnerships are gonna be key for really enhancing the ability of these programs to be successful. Five years is a long time, but it's really not. So there can be a lot that changes, and so it's really important for states to have a strategic plan for their broadband programs, and the grant money that they are receiving and could very well receive in the future, and so I wanna touch on that a little bit. I would like to ask a couple of questions about public-private partnerships, and it's easy to talk about public-private partnerships, but in reality, they're really complex and they're high stakes, there's a lot of funding that goes into it, funding, especially this funding, that's a really rare funding opportunity, with regard to IIJA. So it's really important for the community to be able to connect easily and affordably, but a great deal of collaboration and coordination goes into that effort for it to be truly effective.

Justin Perkins: And so recently you have a new role with the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives, but you were a senior specialist with the NTIA's Broadband USA Technical Assistance Program, you were a principal liaison on a group that recommended resources for public and private partnerships, and so I wanna get to a deeper technical question about public-private partnerships and the ability of open source software to be secured, but first I just wanna take a step back and ask, what characteristics do you see broadly in a successful public-private partnership? 

Scott Woods: Yeah, that's a great question. I think you hit it on the head in the initial question, they're not easy to do, so I know I'm gonna be flipping about it in Washington, sometimes we use terms and phrases, and it sounds like it's easy, no, it's not easy, but in our experience and my experience, successful public-private partnerships are based on mutual trust and transparency to begin with, right? And so you have to be intentional both parties, usually it's the community and a private or a semi-private operational organization, you gotta be intentional to make it work, and I think from the community standpoint, if you're working with the local service provider, you need to understand, there's a business case that they have to meet, return on investment, their business case numbers. And I think it's okay to be open and honest about those and to be able to negotiate on what those are and what those mean, but from the community standpoint, we've gotta be organized and understand we can organize data, we can... Broadband data collection, we can aggregate demand, there's a lot of things that we can crowdsource, demand, there are a lot of things that the community can do to show and work with the local service providers and say, "Hey, we're serious about this."

Scott Woods: And then from the service provider's perspective, or the private provider perspective, from my experience, you have to be open and transparent, let's talk about it, let's work, let's be flexible and talk about what you need and what you need to show and bring in additional relationships, bring in additional parties. Again, I think it's that level of understanding and detailed understanding and cooperation that will make it work. I think this is a historic time in that now there's a lot of money in private equity, in private dollars, there's a lot of money in government, there's a lot of money from state governments, so there is enough funding out there for these partnerships to work. What there isn't is a lot of trust, and so we've gotta play a role in understanding that that trust relationship is there, and man, there's a lot of work to do as well. So I'm not gonna think like oh, it's just that easy getting together with the room and we all say we trust each other, your trust is based on your deeds and your actions, but it's really intentional about the parties working together to solve a common issue.

Scott Woods: And in my mind, looking at it from micro or macro economics, if I'm looking at we're going to the government or private equity we're gonna subsidize expansion of infrastructure, and I'm looking at new markets to expand my goods or services, it's going to be into those un-served and underserved areas, that is where I'm going to pick up new customers and be able to market new goods and services and ideas, and so in my mind, in my opinion, that is where there's a case to be made that there is a sound business case to expand infrastructure and garner new capabilities and capacity in vulnerable communities.

Justin Perkins: Absolutely. Absolutely. And the importance of strategically creating plans that are going to make an impact on the communities that are being served is very important to the distribution of these programs, and I'm sure that regulators are really looking at the impact, the real world impact that these programs are gonna have on communities. And it's nice to have public-private partnerships and for the sake of having them, but it's really, really, really important and lauded to have those partnerships that are really going to truly make an impact on the community. So we're really, really looking forward to that. And...

Scott Woods: Yeah. And if I can add on that too...

Justin Perkins: Absolutely.

Scott Woods: I'm sorry, I don't mean to jump in, we're not just talking about infrastructure expansion, I think we have to be honest too, digital equity, inclusion, adoption these are very important as well. So you can have the access, you can have the devices, you can have the connectivity, but you also need the skills, and the skills are gonna determine workforce development, entrepreneurial activities. And so it all works together. So you can have a public-private partnership or a collaboration on multiple levels, you can have one that focuses in on infrastructure, but you also need that public-private partnership to address the needs of the homes, the households, the businesses, the people, the community as well in terms of utilization and empowerment, so it's not one or the other. It's a combination. It's tangential. It's both, all inclusive.

Justin Perkins: Right, right. Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, it is all related, and we have to be able to have those nuances in our mind because it's not all cut and dry or just black and white, so we have to be able to hold those. I have a couple more questions here from our viewers, and speaking of all the money that's here, all the money in state government, all the money in the federal government that they're investing, we have a question from James Reynard, he asks, Scott, when is the NTIA expected to start making announcements on the 288 million in broadband infrastructure program applications? 

Scott Woods: That's a great question, I think fairly soon, I would just ask you to just continue to check our website, we always will do a press release and announce those. I know the team is outside of my jurisdiction, if you will, over at NTIA, but I know that team is reviewing the applications, and again, we'll make some announcements soon.

Justin Perkins: Great, great. And then we have a question about open source software, and just a quick note about this, I was at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show last week, covering the show for Broadband Breakfast, and there was a lot of talk about open source software and how that infrastructure when made secure can really be an innovator for creators and service providers, so we have a question from Dave Tatt, and he asks, to what extent is it possible to get better support for the development and maintenance of better open source and secure infrastructure software, such as the kind used in Edge routers.

Scott Woods: Yeah, that's a great question. That's outside of my area of expertise. I do know we do have public policy professionals here at the Department of Commerce and NTIA that are actively working on those issues, including Open RAN and other things, and spectrum allocations. I can't speak on that, I'm not qualified to speak on that. Again, anything in my opinion, anything that encourages innovation, that expands the power and utilization of our technological capability, we should be exploring, but from a public policy standpoint, that is outside of my area of expertise and I cannot speak on that.

Justin Perkins: Great, great. Thank you. Thanks Scott. So we have a question that's being asked by a few viewers, so let's make sure to get this one in, this question is being asked by Jase Wilson, who is again the founder of Ready. So we have this question, he asks about a question between the compatibility between the rural digital opportunity fund and IIJA. So he asks if RDOF, if the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund subsidy is awarded in an area, does that mean that area can't get IIJA funding? 

Scott Woods: Yeah, that's a good question. We actually have a policy team that's working on that, part of our responsibility is inter-agency coordination with other funding entities like the FCC, as well as USDA, RUS that have also historically and actively are lending money, so I would stay tuned on that. Again, the traditional rule is that you don't have federal assets for similar purposes in the same area, but we do know there are nuances to that, and I do know that there's a team at NTIA that is looking at that and working on that issue, so again, I would stay tuned to the NOFO for that, but again, these are very good questions to the extent that you can input those questions and comments into our request for comments, absolutely, please do so, that comment period is open until February 4th, so I don't wanna get above some of those pronouncements that are going to happen as a result of the comments we receive for the development of these NOFOs, but we are looking at that, we have a team dedicated to that. It is a complicated issue. We know the limitations of the program and the criticisms as well, but again, we will do our best to ensure what is going to be best for both programs.

Justin Perkins: Great, great, absolutely. And thank you, Scott. So we have just a few more minutes here, but I wanna make sure that we get some of our viewers' questions answered, so I have a few more that are coming in, this one is from Ahmad Hathout. He's an editor at Broadband Breakfast. Ahmad, thank you for your question. He asks, what is the NTIA's scoring criteria for state grant applications? 

Scott Woods: Yeah, that'll be in the NOFO, that'll be outlined in the Notice of Funding Opportunity, you'll have all of the detailed criteria. Again, if you look at the public listening sessions that we've conducted, both the one in December and the one just this week, you will see we lay out some of the priority elements for the state broadband program... Sorry, not the state broadband, for the broadband programs, both for the BEAD and for the digital equity, so priority areas are unserved designations under-served designations, these are all defined in the authorizing statute, the priority on establishing affordable services again under digital equity targeting vulnerable communities and populations, these are explicitly defined in the authorizing legislation, and our job at NTIA is to take that and the comments that we receive and fashion that into the NOFO that will contain all of the rules and the regulations and the how-tos, if you will, that will govern the program.

Justin Perkins: Right. Right. Okay, absolutely. So excellent, thank you, Scott. So we have a few more minutes here, but I wanted to just take a step back and mention something that I didn't mention earlier that we might have commented on, but didn't get to mention, and that is, your role in the BTOP program, and that is the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, which invested about $4 billion in broadband infrastructure deployment projects, public computer centres, and supported state-wide broadband planning and data collection. And this program, I like talking about this program because it was born during a time of economic crisis as part of the American Recovery Reinvestment Act of 2009 under the Obama administration. And you were a leader in this program, you oversaw broadband deployment projects as a senior program specialist and federal officer for this program, you managed a wide portfolio with projects all across the mainland and some US territories. I'm really curious for our viewers, what are some of the lessons that we can learn from your leadership and the administration of BTOP's infrastructure grant programs? 

Scott Woods: Yeah, no that's a great question. That's when I joined NTIA under the Recovery Act programs in the first Obama administration. I think the lessons learned, I think from that is two part really, number one is digital inclusion, equity and infrastructure expansion have to go hand in hand. 12 years ago, we were doing them separately, it may have been disjointed given the approach and the process, but what we've learned through the administration of those projects is they're tied hand-in-hand, the human capital component, the training component, but also the need for expansive middle mile infrastructure, and I think you see that in the new legislation, there is a billion dollars allocated for middle mile because middle mile becomes a caveat and expansion for last mile, it allows for that last mile innovation and connectivity, again to un-served and underserved areas.

Scott Woods: I think we also learn, if you look at some of the programs that we developed, they bore out of our administration of the BTOP program, so our national broadband availability map, the foundation for that program was laid out of the work, the data collection work that happened under BTOP, and again, just on a personal note, for me, I met just some amazing people from across the country, just absolutely amazing people with similar goals in mind, and that was just to improve opportunities and access for homes and for people, for businesses, for their students, for their young people. And it was the same whether I was in Florida, Texas, was in Georgia, California, Puerto Rico, Hawaii. These themes were the same. West Virginia, these themes were the same. And people were really invested in ensuring that they had robust connectivity for what we see now 12 years later that we needed during a pandemic, when everyone's gonna be online and businesses have online and virtual profiles, and everything that we do now is pretty much virtual.

Scott Woods: I don't know about you, I don't know when the last time I've actually had cash money in my hand, in an exchange. Everything is now digital-based and online-based. So I think it was before its time. There were people who criticized the investments at the time, but I think we also look at the job creation components of these programs, particularly on the infrastructure side, that are very important and key to our American economy. So that was a very long-winded way, but we learned a lot, and a lot of what we learned form the basis of our expertise, the basis of our institutional knowledge to be able to effectively implement these new programs.

Justin Perkins: Absolutely, absolutely, and it's really interesting to see how the office has learned from the programs that have been implemented and that you're monitoring now, like BTOP and using a lot of those lessons for these upcoming programs. So that's really interesting to see. I just have a couple more questions here before we close out, and these are gonna be a little bit rapid fire, so we just got a couple more, so.

Scott Woods: You're telling me to be brief in my answers? [laughter]

Justin Perkins: No, no you're good. No, no, no. Not at all. So we got... When evaluating grant proposals, will the NTIA be strictly technology-neutral or will the NTIA prioritize certain technological methods over others, for example, will fiber be prioritized over wireless technology, and this is asked by Ben Kahn, who's a reporter at Broadband Breakfast, and I really like this question because we've seen in test and providers are touting that fiber broadband is the best, will provide the fastest connectivity, but again, all communities are different and communities have different needs, so could you just talk about whether the NTIA will be strictly technology-neutral in evaluating grant proposals? 

Scott Woods: Yeah, absolutely. I think historically, we've always been technologically agnostic, but we're adhering to the requirements of the authorizing legislation that creates these programs. And there are speed elements in there that we have to prioritize, but I think they are set so that it's not going to favor one particular technology type over the other. We all know, and anyone will tell you, fiber is the superior technology in terms of connectivity and speeds and symmetrical service. It's also the most expensive to deploy. And so again, where it does not make economical sense, there are wireless alternatives, hybrid alternatives, that will achieve the results as well. And I think the main thing that we want is to continue to push innovation.

Scott Woods: So again, I'm a big champion of fiber, fiber in the middle mile, fiber to push 5G, fiber to the premise, fiber throughout your wholesale network, but again, where it makes sense to do so. Where it doesn't make sense, there's a role for all of technologies, in my opinion, to play, including satellite, wireless, and the like. So I don't think we are going to favor any one technological type over the other. We're going to leave it up to the states and their outreach and the plans that move forward to adopt what best works for them and their communities. And I think that's what we have to understand and realize as well. We have to trust and understand that these plans that move forward should absolutely meet both the current and the future needs of the communities, the unserved and the underserved communities, that will be targeted as the basis of these programs. So there are three different, very different programs and three very different criteria and prioritization, but we all think that they work in concert to address the issue that's needed today.

Justin Perkins: Absolutely. Thank you, Scott. So, we've got a couple more. What can the federal government do about the 17 states that have passed laws barring Muni Networks, or competition to the incumbents? And this question is from Richard Frank.

Scott Woods: Yeah, Richard, that's a good question. We saw that a lot in the BTOP days. Unfortunately, that's the system of government that we have. States have their own opportunity to craft rules and regulations that we may or may not agree with. And the municipal restriction has been adopted by 17 states. And we understand, from a policy standpoint, the impact that it has on the ability for certain jurisdictions to use their existing resources to provide connectivity and access to their constituents in their jurisdiction. But until some of the regulatory frameworks change, there's really nothing that we can do about that. It's really up to the citizens of that particular state, the interest groups, unfortunately, the service providers to really get together and make that change. But again, from the federal government's standpoint, we don't get into states' rights. That opens up, Justin, as you know, to whole issues of federalism and all of these other constitutional issues that would require some type of Supreme Court litigation to address. And we're just not there.

Justin Perkins: Absolutely, absolutely. Thank you, Scott. So, one more quick one. The oldest piece of technology I have is a 2005 iPod, so I'm wondering, do you still...

Scott Woods: 2005. [laughter]

Justin Perkins: Right. Do you still have your Palm Pilot? 

Scott Woods: I actually do. I have it. It's packed away somewhere. I've moved a couple of times since then, but I do have that old-school Palm Pilot. Particularly when we were in grad school, when we would walk around, and you would see somebody, and you would... You could share your digital card, or it wasn't even digital, it was analog at the time, but you could beam it across, and that was like all of the... That was a rare at the time, that was the... Yeah, I still have that. I still have my initial... The big iPod that came out, I still have that. I still have a couple of the sort of the pre-developmental devices that came out. And I was probably one of the first adopters just going back full circle. When I worked at the city, and I talk about mentorship, Muriel Mitchell, who I worked for under Maynard Jackson, she had the first Motorola phone that had this really big battery pack with a long line, and I was like the designated phone carrier, so I even had that back in the day, that big Motorola phone with the 20-pound battery pack. So yeah, I go way back when it comes to technology, an early adopter of technology.

Justin Perkins: Well, we've come a long way. Well, thank you so much. Thank you, Scott, for being here. Thank you to our viewers. I've really enjoyed it and Scott, it's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you very much for imparting your knowledge with us, and I've learned a lot. I know our viewers have learned a lot. So thank you again. And to our viewers, please join us next Friday at 2:30 PM Eastern Time to have a discussion about a lot of the questions that were here today. I'm really looking forward to it, and once again thank you for being here and enjoy your weekend. Thank you, Scott.

Scott Woods: Thank you.