News

Mapping Broadband Plan’s Flaws

7/12/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

It would be beyond comprehension
for the federal government to
spend taxpayer money to open “Uncle
Sam’s Burgers” to compete with privately
owned fast-food franchises. Likewise,
it would be crazy for the feds to build
a major Interstate without consulting
a map showing nearby existing highways
and roads.

Taxpayer dollars should
not be used to duplicate services
or to provide “free”
capital to give one company
a market advantage over others
that have invested billions
of their own money to create
thousands of jobs for hardworking
Texans.

But that, in essence, is what
the feds are doing with the $7.2
billion national broadbandstimulus
program.

Newly released maps show
that broadband — high-speed
Internet — is widely available
in Texas. They also underscore that the
broadband-stimulus program has been
ill-conceived and poorly executed by the
federal government.

That’s because the federal government
put the cart before the horse.

It gave out more than $270 million
of your money to a dozen projects
in Texas before actually determining
where current broadband operators
provide service. Common sense
would say to find out where broadband
is, or isn’t, available before
spending the money.

The feds also should better define
“underserved,” since the money is
intended to help both unserved and
underserved areas. It sounds like a
riddle — how many broadband providers
have to serve a household before
it isn’t considered “underserved”?
So far, that riddle has no answer and
that’s costing you, the taxpayer, a lot
of money.

Without the data or the definition, how
can the federal government make sure it
is spending taxpayer money wisely and
where it is really needed?

Now that we have the maps, we can
see that more than 99% of all Texans
can access some form of broadband,
whether wired, wireless or mobile,
from more than 123 providers. Yet without
this information, the U.S. government
awarded hundreds of millions in
grants and loans to the Texas projects,
with possibly more to come
before the broadband stimulus
program wraps up in
September.

The Texas Cable Association
formally objected
to seven of the dozen Texas
projects, when in the application
stage, because the
areas addressed are already
covered by existing broadband
providers. We don’t believe
the areas are unserved
or underserved.

For example, one project
that received more than
$78 million in grants and
loans plans to serve the city of Falfurrias
and other limited areas in South
Texas. According to the new broadband
availability maps, four providers
already serve the city of Falfurrias.
How is that a wise investment of your
tax dollars?

Instead, a more productive use
of the remaining broadband stimulus
money would be to focus on unserved
areas or on overcoming other
barriers to adoption, such as digital
literacy or lack of computers or other
equipment, where broadband already
is available.

As the feds consider a new round
of applications from Texas, the Texas
Cable Association urges them to make
their decisions based on the new Texas
broadband availability maps to ensure
that taxpayer dollars are not being
used to threaten local jobs, harm hardworking
Texans and compete against
private-sector investment.


Todd Baxter is vice president of government
affairs and general counsel for the
Texas Cable Association.
September