WashPo: Headline Wrong, Story Mostly Correct

Cecilia Kang, telecom writer for the Washington Post, recently looked into why major carriers are not applying to the broadband stimulus program.

The implication of the title - "Major Carriers Shun Broadband Stimulus: Funds would come with tighter rules" is because of the rules. I'm sure she didn't write the title or sub, that usually goes to the editor. But it would appear whoever wrote the title did not read the piece because she shows that the rules are a minor factor at best.

Unfortunately, Kang also makes a significant error in not appearing to have read the stimulus legislation because she seems surprised that major carriers are not interested in the stimulus. The stimulus was emphatically not targeted at those carriers. As I detailed here previously, Congress intended the stimulus to boost public and nonprofit investments though private carriers could apply if they met a public interest requirement - an intention that NTIA ignored when making the rules. Reading the legislation, it was never aimed at the large carriers so their lack of interest is no surprise -- unless you are Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation...

"If you want to get broadband out, you have to do it with [those] who brought you to the dance in the first place, and in this case it is the incumbent cable and telephone carriers who have 85 percent of lines in the country," said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington tech policy think tank.

Mr. Atkinson appears to educate himself solely with the press releases and reports of incumbent-financed think tanks. He has systematically ignored the potential for publicly owned networks - as we have shown, these networks are some of the fastest and most affordable networks in the country. Instead, he opines about the need for incumbents to build more of their super slow DSL networks - as though that is what the country needs to remain competitive in the 21st century.

The real reason the major carriers are staying away from the stimulus funds is because they do not want to invest in low density areas that do not offer fast, high returns for their shareholders.

"It's not cost-effective for the big network operators to play in rural [markets] in the first place, and if they take federal money that comes with all these strings attached to it, they are opening themselves up to being regulated even further," said Roger Entner, head of communications research for Nielsen IAG.

[and]

Verizon said it decided not to apply before conditions were announced.

[and]

Rebecca Arbogast, head of tech-policy research at Stifel Nicolaus, notes that the biggest carriers would be less inclined to deploy networks in rural areas because there is not enough demand to justify the ongoing financial investments.

These are the real reasons, but apparently an accurate title and subheading for this story (something like "Major Carriers Shun Broadband Stimulus: Few Profits to be had in rural broadband" would have been inappropriate.