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ITIF: Government Broadband Buildout Should Avoid Past Mistakes

A new report from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) says that any federal infrastructure plan—both Congress and the Trump Administration are talking about infrastructure upgrades—should be targeted to unserved areas and use a reverse auction. 

ISPs have long argued that any government spending on broadband should be confined to where there is no business case and not used to overbuild existing plant. 

The report advises against "pouring more resources into inefficient programs like the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service—RUS came under heavy criticism from former Democrat-appointed National Broadband Plan architect Blair Levin in a recent op ed. Levin is an ITIF board member.

The report says that the FCC's reverse auction approach to disbursing Connect America Fund (CAF) broadband subsidies is the "most well thought-out approach"—Levin helped think that one out as the FCC's broadband czar—and suggests a reverse auction for future infrastructure buildouts.

One of ITIF's issues with RUS funding is that its government-guaranteed loans "ultimately creep into low-cost areas that are already competitively served."

ITIF also suggests using infrastructure spending to incentivize localities to streamline the permitting and citing process for new plant to speed rights of way and encourage dig-once policies. 

The report offers some infrastructure rules to live by: 

  • "Support should focus on those truly unserved areas that remain unconnected to a fixed terrestrial network until costs grow unreasonable, at which point satellite solutions should be on the table.
  • "Support should first supply a single network for unserved populations before turning to upgraded speeds of existing slower networks.
  • "Support should be made available for both fixed and mobile broadband, with fixed on a technologically neutral basis and mobile focused on LTE coverage.
  • "Performance targets should be reasonably tied to anticipated application demand and cost expectations, not 'future-proofing.'
  • "Ideally, support should only fund the up-front capital expenditure, and not reward slow, piecemeal upgrades through ongoing support."

(Photo via Rock1997Image taken on Jan. 18, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 3x4 aspect ratio.)

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.