Telecommunications firms vying for $7.2 billion in funding for broadband expansion are urging regulators to allow all companies that have current government licenses to be eligible to apply.
Firms, regulators and consumer groups are all lobbying to shape the unwritten rules that will govern how regulators dole out the money.
The U.S. Commerce Department will disperse most of the broadband funding included in the Obama administration's stimulus valued at nearly $800 billion. The broadband portion aims to bring technology to unserved and underserved areas.
"If we are to reach the goal of ubiquitous broadband availability, we must use all tools available and the private sector should be a part of that," Curt Stamp, president of the Independent Telephone and Telecommunication Alliance, told a public meeting on the program.
Stamp was also speaking for the broader wireless, phone and cable industry, as part of a broader industry coalition.
On the other hand, state and consumer groups say the bar should be set higher for private sector eligibility, including showing a track record in supporting local communities and working with state governments.
So what exactly is the public interest? Ubiquitous broadband, but no guarantee of quality, or quality broadband with limited availability?
The tough call is that, for most companies, it's not economically viable to operate in hard-to-serve areas -- the exact point of the government funding.
Naturally, telecommunications firms are only interested in profits. But should the government subsidize a carrier that previously failed to serve underserved areas? Or should it deny shoddy service -- at the expense of connectivity?
What price to pay for nationwide broadband?