Tag: "tanstaafl"

Posted November 1, 2010 by christopher

I recently heard that the only place one finds a free lunch is in a mouse trap. As we sift through the lessons from the broadband stimulus programs, we have learned that the federal government preferred funding private projects rather than those that are structurally accountable to the community.

Before the first round of stimulus applications were due, many communities recognized the costs of applying were too high for them. Now, some are recognizing the high costs of complying with the many federal rules that come with accepting federal grants and loans (as detailed by Craig Settles).

And now, North Carolina's city of Wilson has found that applying for the broadband stimulus may have disadvantaged its FTTH network. Though the application was not accepted, the city has had to turn over its full application (chock full with proprietary information) to its competitors.

This is yet another example of ways in which the "playing field" is tilted against the public. The Wilson Times explained the situation and settlement.

The application included a proposed expansion of the network to provide reduced-cost or no-cost broadband lines to homes of Wilson County school children, a health network, increased lines for police and other improvements that would enhance the network in the city, Goings said.

When the North Carolina Telecommunications Association (with prominent member Time Warner Cable - incumbent cable provider competing with Wilson's Greenlight) asked to see the full application, the City refused to turn it over -- even after a court ruled against the City. The City argued the application contained key information regarding the policy and utilities that should not be made public for security reasons. When the Department of Homeland Security ignored the City's requests to intervene, the City was compelled to release the documents.

This is a particularly interesting juxtaposition as privately owned telcos and cablecos regularly argue against having to disclose any information about about their networks as a security...

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Posted May 3, 2010 by christopher

One of the dangers of federal programs like the broadband stimulus programs BTOP and BIP is that the feds make the rules... and sometimes they just change the rules.

I previously wrote about how the BTOP rules privileged private companies over the public sector (despite Congress' clear intent to prioritize the public sector). As this article notes, NTIA effectively changed those rules along the way -- resulting in what might technically be termed "screwing over" a variety of applicants.

Though the Round 1 rules encouraged applicants to apply for last-mile funds, the vast majority of awards went to middle mile applications. In fact, while in Lafayette, we tried to name more than 5 last-mile grants. Why the change in focus? The most likely reason seems to be opposition from powerful, well connected incumbent companies that did not want to deal with the hassle of competition in small parts of their territories.

So NTIA quietly chose to award funds to less controversial projects. The problem is that the hundreds of applicants poured money and resources into proposals for last-mile projects that they believed would be considered in good faith.

We never miss an opportunity to note that whoever owns the network makes the rules. Well, whoever disburses the funds, makes the rules (and in this case, quietly changes the rules). And in DC, corporate interests all have a seat at the table. When one goes begging to DC for funds, one should not be surprised at the many hoops and frustrations of that process.

Not only are communities better off owning their infrastructure - they are generally better off when they take responsibility for financing the network and do not depend on free money (whether from the private sector or DC). Communities have financed networks with a variety of means -- from a loan from a local bank to bonds (taxable, nontaxable, general obligation, revenue, etc) to slowly expanding networks over a longer period of time.

TANSTAAFL - There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch - Robert A. Heinlein

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