Broadband

Broadband Plan Architect: Avoid 2009 Stimulus Waste

Blair Levin teams with Larry Downes to chart course for infrastructure investments 4/06/2017 11:37 AM Eastern

Blair Levin, the chief architect of the FCC's National Broadband Plan, has teamed with Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy project director Larry Downes to chart a course for broadband infrastructure investment that would avoid the billions of dollars wasted from the 2009 stimulus bill's broadband investments.

President Donald Trump and Hill Republicans and Democrats are in general agreement on the need for a massive infrastructure investment, and that broadband should be part of it, though the two parties disagree on how the money should be spent.

In an op ed in The Washington Post, they said that while "our crumbling 20th-century infrastructure of roads, bridges, water and mass transit" should get the bulk of the money, broadband should be included, including "fixes to the past."

That past includes a broadband stimulus bill that included over $7 billion for broadband. While they say some of the "shovel-ready" investments hit buildout pay dirt, the Department of Agriculture plowed billions into buildout projects that were wasted.

ISPs argued at the time that the money was being spent on overbuilding existing service.

The Agriculture Department and its Rural Utilities Service's "many sins," Levin and Downes wrote, "included funding projects in population centers that already had broadband, poor project management and a failure to properly vet loan applicants, many of whom defaulted. RUS promised to connect 7 million rural Americans. The actual number may be as low as 200,000."

They offered suggestions for Congress and the FCC in creating infrastructure incentives. Those include targeting unserved areas, clearing away bureaucratic obstacles, offering one-time subsidies rather than ongoing ones and addressing nonfinancial obstacles like lack of computer skills.

Levin is currently a senior fellow (nonresident) at the Brookings Institution.

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