Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A damning indictment of U.S. telecom infrastructure policy failure

Wired to fail - Tony Romm - POLITICO: A POLITICO investigation has found that roughly half of the nearly 300 projects RUS approved as part of the 2009 Recovery Act have not yet drawn down the full amounts they were awarded. All RUS-funded infrastructure projects were supposed to have completed construction by the end of June, but the agency has declined to say whether these rural networks have been completed. More than 40 of the projects RUS initially approved never got started at all, raising questions about how RUS screened its applicants and made its decisions in the first place.

But a bigger, more critical deadline looms for those broadband projects still underway: If these networks do not draw all their cash by the end of September, they will have to forfeit what remains. In other words, they may altogether squander as much as $277 million in still-untapped federal funds, which can’t be spent elsewhere in other neglected rural communities.

And either way, scores of rural residents who should have benefited from better Internet access — a utility that many consider as essential as electricity — might continue to lack access to the sort of reliable, high-speed service that is common in America’s cities. Even RUS admits it’s not going to provide better service to the 7 million residents it once touted; instead, the number is in the hundreds of thousands.

A damning indictment of the United States' policy failure to properly fund, plan and build Internet telecommunications infrastructure to serve all Americans. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's (ARRA) funding for Internet telecommunications infrastructure construction could have helped create a new generation of consumer cooperatives to build modern fiber optic telecom infrastructure just as the Rural Utilities Service did starting in the 1930s to support the deployment of electrical service.

But the ARRA allocated no technical assistance funding to help new cooperatives and local governments plan for the necessary fiber infrastructure to replace outdated copper cable, leaving the RUS and the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Agency unable to offer much in the way of real assistance. These agencies themselves erected roadblocks by adopting rules allowing legacy telephone and cable companies to block progress and veto proposed ARRA projects that could have constructed modern fiber to the premise infrastructure. Consequently, 55 million Americans (17 percent of the population) live in areas of the nation without Internet service as the U.S. Federal Communications Commission reported in early 2015.

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