How the FCC wasted $45 billion on rural “broadband” and what the current FCC/Congress/Administration should have learned.

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Before spending an additional $100 billion of public money on rural broadband, avoiding the mistakes of the past decade would be a good place to start.

Lesson #1: The digital divide was not a consequence of rural economics; it has been the policy of the federal government. Broadband is not simply a speed at a point in time. Rather than focus on a short-term goal of attaining any particular speed, public funding is better spent on long-term infrastructure, best defined as assets with a life of at least thirty years.

Lesson # 2: Restricting funding to incumbents is a good way to protect incumbents and a bad way to do anything else. Public funding should be open to competition. More important, government policy should be designed to promote competition in high-cost areas even after networks are built. The best way to do so would be through the provision of portable consumer-based subsidies.

Lesson # 3: Proprietary tools and decisions by two or three people should not be the basis to determine how public funding will be spent across the nation. It’s time to open up the mapping, modeling and funding mechanism to the public.The country should not rely on one agency’s mapping, modeling or auction processes. We believe there should be an open, public system for broadband mapping, high-cost modeling and auction design.

[Jonathan Chambers is a partner at Conexon, a full-service fiber broadband solutions provider working exclusively with America’s rural electric cooperatives]

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