Consumer groups not happy with stimulus rules

Over at GigaOM, Stacey Higginbotham tells us about people protesting the broadband stimulus rules. Read her post here or below:

Larry_strickling_NTIA_ARRA Groups representing municipal broadband advisers and
consumer-oriented nonprofits have written a letter protesting the way
the first tranche of $4 billion in broadband stimulus funds
is being distributed. They sent the letter to Larry Strickling, the
administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information
Administration, which is in charge of distributing $1.6 billion in
stimulus funds in the first of three rounds. The groups, which include
Consumers Union, Public Knowledge and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors,
say that the definitions used in the rules mean that the money won’t go
toward advanced technology such as fiber or projects aimed at
delivering cheaper broadband to constituents.


The issue they raise is one we wrote about two weeks ago
when we noted that most of the money allocated in this first round of
grants and loans is limited to projects that will reach areas that have
no broadband at all, while excluding efforts to boost speeds or provide
cheaper services. Part of the problem lies with the government’s
definition of broadband as 768 kbps. According to the rules, areas that
already have Internet speeds at that level or higher aren’t eligible
for loans or grants.  From the letter:

The definition of “underserved” has the effect of
precluding any residential infrastructure program in an area where a
minimal level of broadband, even first-generation DSL, is generally
available. This preclusion occurs regardless of whether advertised
speeds are actually delivered; whether service is affordable; whether
systems are capable of serving all interested consumers (in many
communities where DSL is advertised, residents and small businesses are
refused service because circuits are tapped out); and whether the speed
of service meets the needs of the consumer (for example, DSL and even
cable modem service are woefully insufficient for home-based business
and teleworking).

Logo_GigaOM The letter asks the NTIA to pay attention to how affordable
broadband services are within a given area and also asks that the rules
be changed to allow schools and other public institutions located
outside of underserved areas to be eligible for grants. Another
troubling aspect of the funding rules alleged in this letter is that
carriers have the potential to veto projects in underserved areas if
they already offer service in those regions. This is only the first of
three rounds of funding that the NTIA will deploy, but it’s still $1.6
billion spent delivering the least amount of broadband to the people
who need it the most.

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