There is a great deal of discussion going on about how to use the federal government’s stimulus funding to increase broadband deployments in rural areas. This is not an area I’ve studied extensively so I’ll leave the analysis to experts. However, I thought it worth collecting a few of the relevant facts.
First, of the $7.2 billion allocated for broadband spending in the government’s stimulus package, at least $2.5 billion will be handed out by the Rural Utilities Service of the Agriculture Department, and 75% of those funds must be allocated within rural areas that do not currently have “sufficient” access to broadband. Drew Clark over at BroadbandCensus.com (who I had the pleasure to meet last fall) has extensive details on how the funding will be used from his coverage of a meeting last week with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Rural Utilities Service and the FCC.
Second, part of the issue with determining how funds should be spent is finding clear data on where broadband is available now. Part of the stimulus funds are meant to be used for broadband mapping, but in the meantime, a group called InternetforEveryone.org has a small team of reporters traveling to rural towns for their own data collection project called “Five Days on the Digital Dirt Road”. The group is chronicling its travels in a series of video interviews that are well worth watching.
Finally, many industry organizations are heavily invested in how the stimulus funds are distributed. The NCTA recently put out a white paper stating its opinions on the topic, which you can read in summary on the association’s blog. (Broadcasting & Cable posted its own analysis) Among the NCTA’s statements:
- Funds should be used to increase broadband adoption and use;
- Awards should be competitively and technologically neutral so as not to create disincentives to private investment that necessarily will continue to take the lead in broadband deployment;
- Value-producing projects that can be implemented quickly should receive the highest priority; and,
- Implementation should be transparent and coordinated with other agencies providing similar aid.
There will be much more discussion on rural broadband in the coming months. It’s no accident that the Cable Show is hosted in DC this year.