Why is this page text-only?

« More Bandwidth Means Less Friction Means Greater Usage | Main

December 29, 2009 1:23 PM

What Happens To The Stimulus After The Money Runs Out?

With so much buzz built up around the stimulus, especially now that awards are finally being made, there's disturbingly little being said about what happens after the money runs out.

The only recent discussion I've seen is this great call to action from Charles Benton and Dr. Kate Williams about "Why We Must Measure the Results of the $7.2 Billion in ARRA Broadband Funding."

They make many salient points about how significant an opportunity the stimulus is for gathering all sorts of new data about what kind of broadband deployment and adoption programs and models are most effective. They also highlight how we need good data to make sure the stimulus is a success if we want any hope of getting more money from Congress in the future for broadband.

But I think this issue of what happens after the stimulus well runs dry goes even deeper than that.

As far as I can tell, the way things currently stand there are no funds appropriated or serious accommodations being made for the ongoing oversight of stimulus fund recipients. This is bad on multiple levels.

It means there won't necessarily be anyone making sure that the money's being spent wisely by recipients, that they're spending it on what they said they would and that they're making sound investment decisions. Stimulus recipients have all sorts of requirements for reporting data like this, but who's going to be actively monitoring it? Also, what are the consequences of misspending money? Other than the possibility of not getting the full amount of funds requested, I've heard of no other ramifications for a recipient abusing their taxpayer support, and I worry that if we do end up with some bad apples that simply turning off the faucet could mean stranding network assets.

Also, without ongoing oversight, it makes it that much less likely that we'll actually learn anything from these billions of dollars being invested in broadband. How can we accept government talking about learning lessons from the impact of the broadband stimulus without actually having someone setup to capture this information in such a way so it can be shared with others? This feels like something that's been mistakenly de-prioritized in the rush to get money out the door.

But perhaps most troubling of all, I've seen almost no talk about oversight of the actions of government-subsidized broadband providers that extends beyond when the last stimulus dollar is spent.

This leads me to wonder: What good will the stimulus have done if the networks it funds go belly up in five years? Or even more troubling, in situations where the stimulus is enabling the establishment of private monopolies, what's to stop them from raising prices indiscriminately in the future to drive greater profits? How can we insure stimulus recipients continue to be good stewards for their communities moving on into the future?

I'm not trying to suggest that private companies shouldn't get funds, or that any particular recipients will do anything other than their best to serve their communities. What I'm just trying to point out is the absurdity of spending billions of taxpayer dollars without adequate oversight.

I know this might not be the way things are normally done in DC, but the lack of attention on these vitally important issues makes me wonder if we shouldn't be seriously considering going back to Congress and asking for more time and flexibility to rework how the rest of this broadband stimulus plan plays out.

I know the point of the stimulus was originally to get money into the economy quickly and stimulus job growth, but that ship has largely sailed and given the long-term significance of any investment we make in our country's broadband infrastructure, it seems like it'd be more prudent to make sure we do this right rather than quickly.

Before we attempt to spend any more taxpayer dollars, we should take a step back and make sure we're protecting their interests sufficiently and that we're learning all that we can from these massive investments. Because otherwise we open ourselves up to too much risk of things going wrong, and we'll miss too many opportunities to do better in the future.

Let's not allow misguided momentum and arbitrary deadlines to prevent us from doing this right. It's time we wake up to the fact that as important as what's been happening leading up to and at the beginning of the broadband stimulus is what happens after the money runs out.

Del.icio.us Digg Yahoo! My Web Seed Newsvine reddit Technorati


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments (2)

As we said from the beginning; You have to involve the private sector and the only way to do that is to move the bandwidth bar high enough they will have to invest to get to that limit or "die on the vine"

Posted by Jerry Baxley on December 30, 2009 11:15 AM


You may be asking too much from this process.

I agree with you that the disbursement of our tax dollars should be consistent with good results. Unfortunately, that's often not the case, and that's mostly due to the way government and politics work. One State official essentially said to me recently (about some other grant funds) that trying to get the desired result can jeopardize the availability of the funds, and that having the funds with poor results is better that not having them at all. I'm not sure that has to be the case, but is probably true more often than not.

There's already good examples of how effective various types of Broadband projects and funding can be. The fact that we still have serious rural availability problems, despite various local, state, and federal attempts at funding rural Broadband, is a testament to the lack of functional models being implemented.

If we seriously look at previous funding attempts around the country, the conclusion would probably be to NOT fund a majority of the ARRA round 1 Broadband applications. For the most part, they mimic previous projects, and the associated conventional wisdom, that mostly resulted in opportunistic development in population centers and corridors and no substantial rural services.

Despite best intentions, I don't hold out much hope, and wouldn't even if there was enough money in the ARRA Broadband funds--which there isn't. The best result we can hope for is some marginal improvements in certain areas.

The real problem is that every iteration of Broadband "solution" failures further sours the potential to introduce real solutions in the future. How many times do we have to waste public funds before everyone simply gives up or we do the right thing? -- Are we there yet?


Posted by Chuck Scott on December 31, 2009 1:04 PM

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)