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8/31/2009
02:40 PM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
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Fickle Carriers Now Want Stimulus Funds

The unqualified success of the first part of the government's broadband stimulus effort is forcing broadband carriers to change their tune.

The unqualified success of the first part of the government's broadband stimulus effort is forcing broadband carriers to change their tune.The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Rural Utility Service (RUS), the federal agencies charged with vetting grant applications and doling out the roughly $7.2 billion in stimulus dollars, said they received more than two thousand applications, gainsaying disinformation issued by the incumbent carriers who wanted to bury the program so they could continue controlling who gets broadband and when.

From a strictly business perspective, it's understandable that the carriers would want to derail a project that is not tailored for them but is intended to extend broadband to areas that don't currently have it; it forces them to consider factors other than their own short-term gains and conjures up in their fevered imaginations the possibility that a new rival could emerge from the ooze of rural America to challenge their hegemony down the road.

So now that more private-public partnerships have raised their collective hands than the likes of Verizon and AT&T could have dreamed of in their worst collective nightmare, now that they've failed to cow smaller players and been unable to derail an effort that is as popular as it is necessary for both short- and long-term economic growth, and after proclaiming that they wanted nothing to do with the process, after claiming that a non-existent lack of interest among smaller carriers proved the program is unpopular, now they say they want to participate.

I suppose they expect us to be thankful.

Rather than thankful, we need to be watchful for more self-centered posturing, more attempts to derail the process -- this time by trying to disqualify competing proposals by claiming they serve areas they don't -- in short, more lies.

Expect more "expert" opinions from the likes of industry water-carriers like Robert Atkinson, president of telecom "think tank" National Technology and Innovation Foundation, who told the Washington Post:

"If you want to get broadband out, you have to do it with [those] who brought you to the dance in the first place, and in this case it is the incumbent cable and telephone carriers who have 85 percent of lines in the country."

But, as broadband strategist Craig Settles noted on his blog, self-serving comments notwithstanding, there's a lot more to the U.S. broadband industry than the likes of just Verizon, AT&T and Qwest.

The flawed assumption... is that the incumbents are the only players who can make broadband a success. This thinking pervades the discussion nationally and sometimes locally... There are various alternatives that are more beneficial to the drive for broadband... [including a] laundry list of communities, rural service providers, public-private partnerships submitting proposals [driving] the success this stimulus is poised to deliver.

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