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April 15, 2009 9:20 AM

BTOP Should Be About Stimulating Deployment Not Solving It

Is it just me or are all the discussions about how the BTOP program should distribute its dollars way off track?

During the debate leading up to the stimulus passing, the new administration was quite clear that their intention for this legislation was to avoid policy debates and focus on how to get money into the system stimulating the economy as quickly as possible.

But ever since the stimulus passed our industry has been embroiled in a series of policy debates around things like defining the terms unserved and underserved. Getting dollars out the door quickly to stimulate the economy has taken a backseat to discussions of who deserves what.

We're now sidetracked by the scrum of communities and deployers all trying to position themselves as most worthy of government support and as most in need.

While in general these are worthwhile discussions, as it relates to the BTOP program I think we're missing the point.

BTOP is not about getting everyone online; it's about spurring deployment to stimulate the economy as quickly as possible.

With this in mind, determining who should get what at this initial juncture should be a lot easier.

What we should be doing is rounding up all of the projects that are truly shovel-ready, those that would've already been deploying if it hadn't been for lack of available capital, and funding them to get moving.

For this first round of subsidies let's not get too caught up in unserved vs. underserved definitions and let's not welcome in all applications equally. In the same way, let's not allow ourselves to settle for lesser forms of broadband.

Instead let's focus on those shovel-ready projects that bring connectivity with the capacity to serve a community for decades to come, that pledge to strive for operating open networks, and that have been developed from the perspective of the public good rather than solely for private profit.

As I've suggested before, if we end up not getting enough applications that fit these characteristics then we can always expand eligibility in future rounds.

But for now it's vitally important to remember what the point of the BTOP program is supposed to be: stimulating broadband deployment not solving it.

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