As states are considering whether and how to use federal CARES Act funding to improve Internet access, Idaho is poised to enact counter-productive limits on who can use that money by excluding community-owned solutions.
Though many states have been under pressure from big monopoly providers to only fund for-profit business models with broadband subsidies, those voices seem largely absent in this Idaho fight. Instead, it is some local monopoly providers that are threatened by a wave of new community networks that break the old monopoly approach to broadband networks.
Shock and Aww, Come on
As Idaho began considering how to spend its CARES Act funding, it took comments from a variety of stakeholders on how to achieve the state’s broadband goals. That process suggested an inclusive, open-ended approach that could help fund a variety of efforts that would improve resilience in a variety of ways — not just new connections to homes.But when the Department of Commerce stepped up to operationalize those goals into a matching grant program, something came off the rails. The state is taking comments this week from Idahoans on an approach it unveiled Tuesday evening. View the draft grant application and rules.
This draft grant application goes through contortions to give the CARES Act money to private companies. The only entities that can apply are governments, including sovereign tribes, local governments, or Idaho state agencies. But they are purely a pass-through — the money must go to a private company per rule IV of eligible projects: "Include only new broadband service, installed, owned, and operated by for-profit companies and not the applicant."
Requiring the networks to be built and operated by for-profit entities runs counter to the suggestions of many stakeholders who discussed how this money should be spent. Non-profit business models run by cooperatives have been essential to expanding the highest-quality Internet access in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Montana, as we have demonstrated in...Read more