$6 Billion For Broadband, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And LOL At The Recovery Act

Speeding its way across the Internetz today are copies of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Eager policy analysts, lobbyists, and grassroots organizations all over the country are scouring its 258 pages as we speak. As a tech policy analyst who is very interested to see what was going to happen with the Promised One’s Broadband Stimulus plan, I too dove into the fine reading that my giant PDF copy of the proposed act would provide.

Prior to my study of the bill, as I sent the document to my printer, visions of the sorcelations such a mighty plan might bring wrought both excitement and fears for the future of the Internet. I grabbed the freshly printed document from the copier, my fingertips brushing the pages and sending chills that delivered the grandeur of the most daring broadband project ever conceived on the face of our planet to my mind’s eye. The thought was both intriguing to see how such a plan would be delivered, and brought with it the scourge of the possibility of enforced government regulation, and implementation of mandatory net neutrality policy via acceptance of the funds by the bidding project companies.

I returned to my desk and began reading. I read it. Then I read it again.  (The section on broadband is very short, especially for a plan that will, “get true broadband to every community in America“.)

And that’s when I started to LOL.

$6 Billion. That’s it. $6 Billion to increase broadband penetration to the “underserved” part of America. Current penetration of broadband in this country is just over 25%, connecting roughly 71 million Americans to high-speed Internet. Most of these individuals live in areas where they have access to readily available sophisticated networks. Obama’s broadband stimulus is for rural areas; areas where many companies have avoided going because the problems getting broadband in those areas are not miniscule and will cost more money to develop than in populated regions where an infrastructure backbone is present.

So let’s put this into perspective. AT&T announced roughly a year and a half ago that it underestimated its U-Verse project that uses fiber-to-the-node and fiber-to-the-point technology.  They now estimate it will run them $6.5 Billion. Verizon, who many feel is keeping their true costs for their FiOS service out of the press, announced publicly back in 2006 that they anticipated spending $18 billion to connect 7 million customers nation wide with fiber.

$6 billion to reach a vast and widespread audience with broadband in the distinct regions and rural areas in this country is a laugh. Additionally, the funding is actually broken down even farther.  $2.825 billion is focused on rural area business development.  Another $2.825 Billion is focused on rural wireless and broadband; $1 billion of which is aimed at wireless deployment, with the remaining $1.825 going toward broadband deployment.  The final $350 Million of the $6 Billion will go to the State Broadband Data and Development Grant program established by the Broadband Data Improvement Act in October of 2008.

I cannot believe that this tiny allotment in the grand scheme, after it is spread thin over state projects, grants, and various companies awarded funds for infrastructure projects will even make a recognizable dent in the state of broadband here in the US.  And this is not even to mention the sneaky requirement to enforce the FCC’s broadband policy statement by accepting the funds; essentially sneaking in net neutrality policy light into the mix.  This, of course, along with the requirement for any network built with these funds to be open access, and how that will affect the nature of other networks is a bigger question.  But ultimately, I would argue that based on what we are seeing in the act, that these funds would probably just be better suited going somewhere entirely different…preferably back in the tax payers pocket.