Monday, March 16, 2009

Feds shouldn't provide broadband funding directly to large telcos, cablecos

From Bloomberg today:

March 16 (Bloomberg) -- Groups representing companies including Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc. pressed U.S. regulators to let broadband providers and equipment makers apply to a federal program disbursing $4.7 billion in grants to expand high-speed Internet. Companies already providing broadband “have extensive technical, financial, and managerial experience and expertise,” Curt Stamp, president of the Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance, told a meeting in Washington today. The program is part of the U.S. economic recovery package.

Bad idea. True, these companies have technical expertise to deploy broadband infrastructure. But their role -- except perhaps for small, locally owned providers -- should be limited to that when it comes to distributing $7.2 billion in grants and loans contained in the recently-enacted federal economic stimulus legislation. They should NOT be the direct recipients of any grants or loans for last mile infratructure.

Instead, the stimulus finding should be directed to nonprofit telecommunications cooperatives and local government entities to put in place buried and aerial fiber optic cable and distribution plants over the last mile the telco/cable duopoly has neglected for years.

We should not forget the lessons of history and repeat the fiasco following the enactment of the Federal Communications Act in 1996 that saw an estimated $200 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to deploy advanced digital telecommunications infrastructure virtually disappear, spawning in the current plague of broadband black holes instead of near ubiquitous fiber that was to be in place by 2006.

If the feds directly provide the telco/cable duopoly broadband infrastucture monies as either part of the stimulus measure -- described by the Obama administration as a down payment on America's sorely needed telecommunications upgrade -- or in follow on funding, the U.S. will likely find itself shortchanged again with a substandard telecommunications infrastructure done on the cheap that won't meet the nation's current or future needs.

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