States Could Easily Flub Billions In Potential Broadband Funding


from the this-could-get-ugly dept

The U.S. is about to spend an historic $42.5 billion on increasing reasonably priced broadband entry courtesy of the Infrastructure Funding and Jobs Act (IIJA). Whereas this spending is essentially being organized by the Nationwide Telecommunications and Data Administration (NTIA), a lot of it includes grants that may should be managed by the states.

The issue: many states lack the experience in mapping broadband and even understanding what wants fixing. As such, they’re ready on the federal authorities to get its act collectively on broadband mapping enhancements earlier than they will even decide how a lot cash they want or will obtain.

The opposite downside: numerous state legislatures are successfully compromised by entrenched telecom monopoly lobbyists, who’re already placing all state funding in danger by imposing restrictions, designed by stated lobbyists, that forestall this funding from going towards potential opponents.

There are billions extra headed towards states for broadband courtesy of the  American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). However right here too there are challenges. A brand new PEW report signifies that simply 24 states have confirmed plans to make use of billions in federal {dollars} supplied via COVID aid for broadband, both as a result of they couldn’t be bothered, or have been ready on different funding alternatives (particularly, the IIJA):

So what’s standing in the best way of full-scale deployment of those CPF sources? Amongst different issues, state legislatures are selecting to not use CPF for broadband as a result of they’re ready on different, doubtlessly bigger pots of federal cash which may be months away fairly than seizing this vital alternative now.

Technically, states have till 2024 to applicable CPF funds. However once more, many states merely lack the sources to coordinate all of this. A number of states (Mississippi and Rhode Island) don’t even have broadband places of work or officers tasked with bettering entry. Many others are so beholden to telecom monopolies, they’re keen to place billions in potential funding in danger simply to appease them.

I’ve spent a lot of 2022 speaking to varied tribes, cities, cities, and counties who’re actively leveraging this historic boon in funding to create superb, open entry fiber networks. And whereas I see quite a lot of superb innovation happening, there’s additionally a lot of area for fraud and dysfunction. Particularly on the state stage, the place regulatory seize for giants like AT&T and Comcast tends to be a typical and trivial affair.

We’ve already famous how ISPs are leveraging inaccurate U.S. broadband maps to problem communities that apply for IIJA broadband grants, bogging them down (fairly deliberately) in costly and time-consuming challenges. Then after all there’s the continuing points with U.S. federal broadband mapping, which specialists recommend received’t be sorted till later this yr on the earliest.

That’s quite a lot of shifting components and some huge cash slushing round in a rustic not notably nice at policing subsidy fraud, and even precisely measuring the place broadband is or isn’t really accessible. I nonetheless assume the infrastructure act will probably be vastly helpful to U.S. broadband, however there’s quite a lot of potential right here for some notably ugly dysfunction and fraud.

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