Wisconsin looks at failed history of federal funding for broadband

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel does a nice job detailing the illustrious history of federal funding for broadband over the past few Administrations. The title of the article says it all…

With poor data, deficient requirements and little oversight, massive public spending still hasn’t solved the rural internet access problem

There isn’t a lot new in the summary but it’s a good and succinct account, starting with the stories of people who have been waiting for decades for the federal funds to trickle down to deploy broadband to their homes and including lots of good details, facts and figures. They boil the issue to a few high level points: inadequate mapping of the problem and minimal requirements and even less administration.

The need…

The Federal Communications Commission has said that nationwide around 14 million people lack access to broadband, also known as high-speed internet. However, the firm Broadband Now, which helps consumers find service, estimates it’s closer to 42 million. And although Microsoft Corp. doesn’t have the ability to measure everyone’s actual internet connection, the tech giant says approximately 120 million Americans aren’t using the internet at true broadband speeds of at least 25-megabit-per-second downloads and 3 Mbps uploads — a further indication of how many people have been left behind.

The attempts so far…

None of the efforts under any of the administrations succeeded, and some of the reasons were fairly straightforward. The data on who has broadband  — and who doesn’t  — has been flawed. Some of the upgrades quickly became obsolete. There’s been limited accountability.

“We have given away $40 billion in the last 10 years … and haven’t solved the problem,” said Tom Wheeler, who was FCC chairman in Obama’s administration. “I always thought the definition of insanity was doing things the same way over and over and believing that, somehow, something will change.”

And so the digital divide, which some say has become a chasm, remains.

And the funders having little to say about who gets service…

Under the Connect America Fund requirements, grant recipients had a great deal of latitude in where they deployed upgrades. They were allowed, for example, to bypass thinly populated sections of rural counties and make up the difference in other CAF II-eligible areas that had more customers.

It’s really hurt places like Price County, according to Hallstrand, who says the government subsidies should be used to cover the areas most in need of better service before the money’s spent in other places.

“That’s how rural America gets broadband,” he said.

In one rural Wisconsin county after another, Connect America Fund II has left a trail of skepticism and frustration. Many communities have initiated their own broadband expansion projects, seeking state grants and local partnerships, because they haven’t seen much help from the federal government and big-name service providers.

This entry was posted in FCC, Funding, Policy, Research, Rural, Vendors and tagged , by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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