The new stimulus package could target as much as $20 - $30 billion towards improving "broadband access". It's fairly certain that at least $5 - $6 billion will be made available for "broadband" in the final bill that will be signed by President Obama. That's a lot of money for something so fuzzy.
Q. Where will this money go and what will it get us?
A. Most of the money will end up in the coffers of large telecommunication companies (AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Qwest) in the form of tax breaks, tax credits, and direct subsidies (Obama's Broadband Plan). The Telcos have already started to line up at the trough.
Q. Why will most of the money go to the large Telcos?A. Because they have persuaded (i.e. lobbied) Congress and the administration that they are in the best position, because of their size, to undertake a massive overhaul of the digital infrastructure. Their argument? It will cost far less to use their existing networks than build out a new one. Q. What will the companies have to do in return for the money?
A. Provide a vague promise that they will "build out broadband networks" to "serve" the poor, the huddled masses, small businesses, and rural communities. Without analysis or investigation the press and the politicians already seem to be buying this argument.
Q. Why should we be skeptical that the Telcos will deliver on their promise?
A. Let's recall some history. In 1996, as part of the Telecommunications Reform Act, Congress provided the telecommunication companies more than $200 billion in subsidies for just such a purpose. The Telcos pocketed the money and didn't keep any of their promises. Bruce Kushnick meticulously documents the fraud in his book "The $220 Billion Broadband Scandal." The article "Broadband Opportunity" provides a case study of what happened ultimately in New Jersey (i.e. what the Telcos promised and what the taxpayers ultimately got.)
Q. What can we do to prevent another Broadband Boondoggle?
A. Follow New Networks Institute, a watchdog research group in the public interest. Read "Let There Be Wi-Fi" by Robert McChesney and John Podesta. If you have influence in public policy, try to get the stimulus funds to be directed towards municipalities rather than the Telcos. And read Feld Thoughts and this blog for more developments.