Entrepreneurs are chomping at the bit to understand how the federal government plans to distribute that $7.2 billion in broadband funding. BusinessWeek report
that Commerce Dept. officials held the first of several public meetings on the new programs. There were plenty of questions but few hard answers.
On Mar. 10, Dan Spatz, a city official from The Dalles, Ore., took the microphone to ask a relatively simple question: How would the government determine which regions in the country are "unserved," a critical definition because those areas without broadband service are supposed to take priority under the legislation passed by Congress.
"The short answer is we've not made a decision," said Mark Seifert, a senior adviser at the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), one of two government agencies responsible for doling out the broadband money. "We have reached out and asked you and folks like yourself… to tell us how we should. We're waiting for you to help us get to those definitions."
Some business people were unimpressed with the town-hall feel of the session. Charlie Mattingly, chief executive of Broadband Rural, was looking for answers.
"I had no idea how full of themselves they are in Washington," he said. "If we had half the money that the government spent to put on this meeting today and half of the money that people spent to attend it, we could have put 1,000 people online," he said.
Congress had dictated that NTIA start handing out checks next month, so time seems to be tight. Even the biggest of ISPs - Verizon and AT&T - arent sure if they will apply for the grants.
Yet the need to move forward is pretty extreme. A UN survey released this month ranked the US 17th out of 154 countries.
"Too few consumers and small businesses in this country have the high-speed broadband they need if they're going to succeed," said Michael Copps, acting chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. "We pay too much for service that is too slow. It's holding us back as individuals, it has cost our economy billions, and things are only going to get worse if we don't do something about it."