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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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February 3, 2009 10:24 AM

Dear NYT: Rural America's Ready to be Wired Now!

Today there's a front-page article on NYTimes.com entitled: "Internet Money in Fiscal Plan: Wise or Waste?"

While it attempts to present a balanced approach to the positive and negative reactions to the money put in the stimulus package for rural broadband, on some of the most crucial issues it's factually wrong.

Take this quote: "And yet, supporters cannot simply wave away the potential pitfalls, including the fact that it will take at least until 2015 to spend all the money on infrastructure to deliver the service -- vastly limiting the stimulating punch."

The only reasons why it would take that long to spend $9 billion on rural broadband is if government's slow in distributing grants or if the industry around next-generation broadband deployment can manufacture enough wire and electronics to keep up with demand.

Sure for communities that don't have progressive incumbents or plans of their own it will take some time before they're ready to do any deploying, but there are also billions in projects that are ready to start turning dirt and creating jobs as soon as capital is available. And even those starting from scratch could be ready to start deploying by the end of the year.

Here's another one: "Meeting minimum speed requirements set forth in the House version could force overly costly investments by essentially providing Cadillac service where an economy car would be just as useful. And some worry that government may pay for technology that will be obsolete even before the work is completed."

Next-generation broadband is not a luxury item in the digital economy. It's not Cadillacs vs. economy cars; it's cars vs. horses.

And if we're worried about next-generation broadband becoming obsolete then we need to be investing in fiber, which won't be obsolete for 100 years. We can't sit around saying, "Well horses are good enough for now, and we shouldn't invest in cars because before you know it there may be flying cars, so let's wait around until they show up."

Though there's a good point made in here: "Other critics say the effort will provide neither a true nationwide information superhighway, which some advocacy groups say will cost up to $100 billion, nor a good short-term lift to the economy, because there are so many requirements to be met in applying for federal broadband grants.

The broadband effort also runs another risk inherent to government stimulus spending, by reducing private investment."

First off, it's going to cost more like $250 billion to lay fiber to every last shack in America.

But let's unpack the second point a bit.

To start, government support of rural broadband can provide a tremendous short-term lift to the economy so long as government enables shovel-ready projects to start moving quickly.

But this article is spot on in pointing out that the distribution of grants is bogged down by the many requirements that need to be met by applicants. Also it's absolutely right to suggest that one thing missing from the broadband stimulus so far is the utilization of private investment. A pragmatic broadband policy shouldn't rely solely on a top-down government-driven approach of writing checks for everything.

That's why we've been advocating for the establishment of a fast-track partial loan guarantee program that can work quickly to unclog the capital markets and leverage government dollars to realize a 50x return in private investment.

Despite the negative tone at the beginning of this article that arguably attempts to cast disparaging light on doing anything to stimulate broadband deployment in rural areas, reading the comments of policymakers like Senator Ben Nelson leaves me optimistic that our elected representatives recognize that something must be done and that inaction is not an option.

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Comments (1)

Is there blood in the water around broadband?

See more Headlines today --

Is "broadband for all" a recipe for recovery, or a boondoggle?

Broadband crisis? Not yet.

A third of adults without Internet don't want it

Even your headline -- "If Wall St. Doesn't Want Carriers To Go Rural, Why Should We?" -- may appear to question the effort to wire America.

Why has including broadband buildout suddenly lost favor -- in the press, anyway?

Posted by Kevin Taglang on February 3, 2009 5:00 PM

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