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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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March 5, 2009 1:49 PM

Apparently Pennsylvania Doesn't Want Broadband Stimulus Dollars

This morning I got a note from Craig Settles about legislation that was just introduced in Pennsylvania to outlaw basically all forms of municipal networks that compete with private providers. You can find the full text of the bill here.

Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of balancing public vs. private interests with regards to municipal networks, I find the timing of this attempt incredibly tone deaf in light of President Obama's economic stimulus package and potentially harmful to the state of Pennsylvania.

In that legislation, the NTIA is specifically encouraged to reward grants to everyone but private-only networks. While not shut out entirely, in order for a private-only network to get a grant they'll need a special waiver. What this all highlights is that our new administration and this Congress want these grants to go to some flavor of municipal networks.

Now, NTIA has the right to not follow those desires and instead make it easy for private companies to get waivers, but so long as there are enough viable municipal projects, I don't think that's likely to happen.

So where does this leave Pennsylvania?

On the one hand, in the legislative language is a mandate that every state get at least one grant, so even if this state ban on municipal networks were to pass Pennsylvania will likely get a grant of some kind.

But at the same time, I think there will likely be money left over after every state gets their one grant, and at that point the money won't necessarily be divvied up evenly among all of them. Instead it should go to whatever projects are ready to move and that deliver the most public good and adhere most closely to the NTIA's requirements.

Once NTIA reaches this point, I can't see the NTIA granting much in the way of waivers for private projects, again presuming there are enough good public projects to fund.

So what this all means is that by outlawing municipal networks Pennsylvania--and any other state that wants to do this--is basically saying that they don't want to get the most broadband stimulus dollars possible for their constituents. They're saying that it's more important to pursue protectionist policies that put private interests over public.

While I can respect the desire to not have government trying to put private enterprise out of business, I can't understand the value of hamstringing the ability of rural communities, where the private market isn't working to deliver them the connectivity they need, with new laws that will disadvantage them relative to rural communities in other states without these laws in going after these competitive grants.

This isn't an issue of whether or not municipal networks are good or bad. This is about whether or not the state of Pennsylvania wants its unserved and underserved communities to get the most federal support possible, or if they'd rather just maintain the status quo and pass on this opportunity to take a big step into their digital future.

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