The past couple of weeks has seen some bad news regarding expanding broadband in this country. Major carriers have washed their hands of the stimulus plan and its funds. Qwest, AT&T, Verizon and Comcast say they will not be participating due to requirements that come with the funds. Sean Buckley of Fierce Telecom has a good take here.
The NTIA and USDA have said after the first round of grants they may be open to changes, and the FCC is fighting back on the PR front. They’ve launched their own blog — Blogband, kinda catchy I must say — and started a Twitter stream, http://twitter.com/fccdotgov. It’s no surprise that Genachowski seems to “get” social media channels, having been an Obama pal at Harvard.
So amidst the posturing, where is the truth about the stimulus effort to date? Are the restrictions around net neutrality and definitions of “underserved” areas onerous, or do the carriers just not want to play? To get a ground level view of the debate, we spoke with a long-time telco exec who will have to stay anonymous for the purposes of this blog post. We’ll call him “Telecom Tom.”
Tom has been with a provider serving primarily rural areas for almost 20 years. He definitely feels there are problems with the stimulus grants as currently designed. “Program administrators want shovel-ready projects, and it doesn’t work that way,” Tom said. “Many of these efforts are multi-year projects that can’t be completed in a two-year time frame. You can’t just throw federal dollars at local and municipal problems and make them go away.”
Another issue is getting the right permits to begin work. “Some departments don’t have the people or specialists to process permits,” Tom shared. “To process them we need to hire these people, and the stimulus funding does not address these obstacles.”
Tom ended by saying plan administrators need to be more open to feedback from experts who have experience connecting rural communities – admittedly not a surprising position for him to take.
There will be many chapters to this story. NTIA and USDA have already said they will review some of the provisions, and we still have 179 days and counting to the unveiling of the FCC’s national broadband plan. There’s time for compromise on both sides. But it’s hard to be encouraged with how the stimulus effort has progressed to date.
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