When Congress passed the stimulus package (ARRA), it included $7.2 billion to build broadband networks to those who are unserved or underserved (both terms that must still be defined). In defined what entities are eligible for grants, the statute expresses a preference for publicly owned networks. States and political subdivisions are listed first and nonprofit organizations second. Listed third are other entities, including incumbent providers, which are only eligible if they are found to be in the public good.
Public entities and nonprofits should be prioritized – they are directly accountable to citizens and put community needs before profits. In the area of broadband, this is especially important because the networks we need require significant upfront expenses and take many years to break even.
The federal goverment is taking comments currently on how these programs should be crafted. The Center for Rural Strategies has instructions on how to comment on the NTIA program (distributing most of the stimulus broadband grants). Encourage NTIA to prioritize applicants who are directly accountable to citizens. View existing comments here.
The FCC is now starting to develop a National Broadband Strategy – a process that will take the rest of the year. When they take comments, we will push hard for fast, local networks that are accountable to the public.