$1.7 Million Per Unserved Home Already Spent to Provide Broadband

WASHINGTON: The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has spent $1,759,530.79 per unserved home to facilitate broadband provision, according to Dave Burstein of FastNewNews.com. However, just one of the broadband projects approved by the NTIA for federal funding focused exclusively on an unserved area. That project is for 682 homes near Williamstown, Ky. Others focus on low-uptake areas, backhaul overbuilds or schools. Burstein said he obtained the statistics in documents he acquired through the Freedom of Information Act.

Last year’s Recovery Act provided $7.2 billion to the Commerce Department, which oversees the NTIA, and to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, “to accelerate broadband deployment in unserved, underserved and rural areas.”

Lawmakers urged the federal agencies to focus first on unserved areas, and much of the push to reallocate broadcast TV spectrum for broadband rests on this intent. Yet the bulk of grants so far appear to fall into the “underserved” category. The definition also has proven flexible. Of 29 projects approved for stimulus funding as of July 2, many were for large municipalities and institutions.

The July 2 NTIA list included the government of the District of Columbia, which received $17.5 million for a new high-speed network for “approximately 190 community anchor institutions.” The Iowa Communications Network received $16.2 million for a network upgrade. Massachusetts Technology Park received $45.3 million for a new fiber network. Additional grants in Oregon, Virginia and Wyoming appear to provide broadband in unserved areas, though it’s not expressly stated. The NTIA has a searchable database of broadband stimulus applicants, but none of the search criteria are for “unserved areas.”

(The NTIA said it approved of 82 projects as of July 2, compared to Burstein’s 40. However, he’s not yet made his project list available, and his documents may not have included the most recent grants.)

Burstein notes that “miscellaneous improved university connections do not fulfill Obama’s promise” that every American have access to broadband Internet service. The federal stimulus package was also supposed to create jobs, but hard numbers are unavailable. A 2009 analysis from Dr. Raul Katz of Columbia Business School estimated that around 128,000 network construction jobs over four years would result from the $7.2 billion. In his July 2 remarks on unemployment numbers, President Obama said 5,000 construction and installation jobs were expected to be created “in the short term” by the broadband grants.
-- Deborah D. McAdams