I usually spend a lot of time checking my non-broadband opinions at the door. If anyone cares about my political leanings outside of telecommunications, they can find my other blog with great ease. In this case though, I’ve got more than a few choice words for the broadband stimulus and how it has failed to improve anything at all. In fact, I believe it has only made things worse.
The purpose of the broadband stimulus, or so I was lead to believe, was to help provide broadband to areas that would otherwise go unserved or underserved. This included rural areas with neglectful incumbents as well as urban areas with, er, “unfavorable demographics” (read: too many poor people) to have service deployed in any kind of meaningful fashion. Certainly these two areas of broadband scarcity, either through a lack of supply or unattainable prices, need to be addressed. Internet service has become as critical as phone service as studies show that a broadband connection more than pays for itself in savings of both time and money.
How far from this goal the stimulus has gone. Much of the money awarded so far as been to organizations that either aren’t addressing these shortcomings or have plenty of other ways to finance construction. The Utah Education Network, for instance, already has a substantial amount of funding from state and local governments. They didn’t have a true need for stimulus funds; it was just gravy on top of their existing budget. The same goes for incumbent Central Utah Telephone. Like many rural cooperative ILECs, they had already taken the commendable initiative to start building out fiber to unify and upgrade their existing copper and HFC plants. It’s not that they didn’t have the means or will to deploy better services; this was just free money to them.
In the end, most of the stimulus stories are just like this: an organization that didn’t have a true need for help asked for and got it anyway. The areas with true need didn’t have the expertise necessary to complete an application and achieve what the broadband stimulus sought to do. Most of the money is still sitting in a holding pattern and will likely be awarded in a very hasty manner so that when the NTIA and RUS have to give an accounting before Congress, they can point to all of the awards without having to also show any results, instead ducking behind the cover of “too soon to tell”.
Yet again, Amerians have been screwed out of a decent telecommunications infrastructure by a bunch of bumbling idiots at the federal level. The states haven’t exactly done much better, wringing their hands when incumbents make requests against the public interest, but rubber-stamping those moronic requests anyway. (Go talk to a Fairpoint or Frontier customer and see how happy they are with those spun-off Verizon lines.) Neither of these parties seems to be able to be held accountable to the public they are supposed to serve. Instead, they seem to be invested in promoting the status quo, rife with special privileges for incumbents and favored businesses.
The feds need to get out of broadband, and the states need to follow soon after. It’s way past time for local communities to be the ones in the drivers seat. The other two had their chances and have been blowing it every step of the way. This is just another in a long line of blunders, intentional or not, that prove that the federal government is made of telecommunications fail.