Duplication Alert: Broadband Pilot Projects

I have raised a number of concerns about the Federal Communications Commission’s new rural broadband experiments.

First, I worry how the new experiments will fit together with the high-cost universal service reforms that the FCC already adopted in 2011 and, despite my best efforts, I have not received an adequate explanation to date. Second, as configured, these experiments could divert needed funds away from expanding broadband access for all Americans in favor of funding very high-capacity projects for a select few anchor institutions. Third, I am very concerned about the ability of these experiments to succeed with one-time funding. And now, I believe that these experiments could duplicate the Congressionally-mandated gigabit pilot program.

Instead of going down this path, the FCC should rethink the need for these experiments. If the FCC does decide to press forward with its own rural broadband experiments, I will be looking to ensure that we abide by the following principles when deciding upon any final rules or approving any experiments:

  • No Duplication. First, the FCC’s experiments must accomplish something very different from the US Department of Agriculture’s pilot program. Second, the FCC must not fund experiments in areas that are served or will be served by USDA’s pilot program or existing providers. Such duplication makes no sense and goes against our obligation to spend every consumer dollar as efficiently and effectively as possible.
  • Rationalize Spending. In its Notice, the FCC contemplated spending between $50 - $100 million (or more) on its new experiments.
  • Ensure Qualified Participants. The Farm Bill requires that those participating in the USDA pilot program demonstrate that they are capable of providing service. The FCC should do no less. We must not dedicate limited funding to wishes and whims, but only to verifiable, concrete plans from companies that can actually build and operate a sustainable broadband network after the one-time FCC support ends -- because it will end.
  • Don’t Zap Focus. The high-cost programs account for $4.5 billion annually and require considerable attention. Staff workshops, webinars, presentations, guidance and oversight will be needed to achieve success on any new experiments. But these take significant time and staff hours.

[March 7]

Duplication Alert: Broadband Pilot Projects