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MMTC Pushes Help For Minority Broadband Bidders

The Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, which has teamed with civil rights groups on the just-launched Broadband Opportunity Coalition, has provided the National Telecommunications & Information Administration and the Rural Utilities Service with a list of best practices to insure minorities and small businesses get a piece of the broadband action.

The two agencies are handing out $7.2 billion in grants and loans, with the first bids due Aug. 14.

In a filing with NTIA and RUS, MMTC argues that the pair should enter into voluntary memoranda of understandings with prime contractors that they will "Develop Internal Procedures and Policies to Ensure Maximum Participation by (Small Disadvantaged Businesses) SDBs and (Minority Business Enterprises) MBEs.

MMTC says that by making that a goal rather than a quota, it could be done while still passing the strict scrutiny standard for race-based government classifications.

MMTC wants reporting and regular monitoring of those goals, but "without excessive government interference."

Coming up with a certifying process to determine who qualifies as an SDB or MBE, which has varying definitions, would be established by an independent certifying committee. Then the actually process would be self-certification given the short deadlines for the grant and loan programs under the broadband stimulus programs.

Under the proposal, prime contractors should encourage participation by minority or small business subcontractors, reach out to them, have staff responsible for that outreach, and require contractors to tell unsuccessful bidders why they didn't get the contract.

MMTC also wants the contractors to steer SDB and MBE contractors toward the categories of business they have the best chance of getting.

Those are just some of a long list of goals for the program, which MMTC said are based on contracting approaches taken by the Maryland Public Service Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission.

The filing was unveiled at MMTC's Access to Capital and Telecom Policy conference in Washington Monday.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.