Public safety must guard against being cut out of broadband stimulus
The broadband stimulus fun has just begun. The $7.2 billion that the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) and the Department of Agriculture are in charge of doling out to bring broadband to underserved areas has been the subject of intense lobbying as these agencies determine how best to distribute the money and under what terms.
As such, cable, wireless and satellite providers have created a united front, arguing that the NTIA, which is responsible for issuing $4.7 billion of the money, should simply allow private companies to apply for the money without requiring them to partner with government or other nonprofit entities in the process. Perhaps more laughable is the assertion from industry telecom groups Comptel and The Wireless Communications Association, as recently reported by Reuters, that broadband stimulus money not be tied to any super-fast broadband speed requirements. Their reasoning is that establishing too-high data speed requirements could hurt their profits. This was actually said publicly.
Moreover, state legislators are beginning to introduce bills designed to prevent cities and counties from owning or partnering in broadband network projects. North Carolina and Pennsylvania are both considering such bills, notes industry analyst Craig Settles, head of Successful.com. He calls such efforts a serious threat to the broadband stimulus process.
The federal government will be making a big mistake if its throws the bulk of the money to telcos that purport to know what each local community needs. They are good at throwing one-size-fits-all solutions, but aren’t so savvy at drilling down to the rural community. Local private companies and governments are best suited to define their own broadband requirements and manage the implementation of technology. The vendor then works to meet that need and partner with its customer.
Along with local governments, the public-safety community stands to lose out if telcos have their way. The NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) not only plans to grant funds to eligible parties to develop and expand broadband services to rural and under-served areas, but also to those that improve access to broadband by public-safety agencies. It’s time for local governments and the public-safety community to make their voices heard. Otherwise, they’ll be stuck with more of the same — at the mercy of the local telco.
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