Connected Nation (CN) won another one, this time in Minnesota. It really wasn’t a great surprise, considering that the legislature had already directly funneled money to the phone company front.
This time, the state gave the contract to CN by taking out the University of Minnesota. That must be hard – overlooking a state institution in favor of a telephone company. Then again, Diane Wells from the Minn. Department of Commerce did write a letter of recommendation about CN that was included in CN’s winning bid in Florida.
Thanks to Mike O’Connor, we know that one of the reasons that the telephone company-sponsored group won out over the scholars is that, surprise, the telco crowd promised to protect the “proprietary” information. In the July 28 letter recommending Connected Nation, which Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) endorsed, the Minnesota Department of Commerce made it clear who was driving the process, and it wasn’t the public interest.
“While we understand the importance of the University to the State of Minnesota, there is some uncertainty regarding their proposal,” the letter said. “The University indicates it has entered into confidentiality agreements on other projects,” wrote Glenn Wilson, commissioner of the Commerce Department, adding: “However, in speaking with the provider community, it was unclear whether they would be able to reach agreement with the University on nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) in order to turn their infrastructure data over to the University.” With all the providers in the state, it would take too long to negotiate the agreements, Wilson said.
It couldn’t be more clear. Phone companies to governments: Our way or the highway. That’s what happened with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) when the agency immediately gave in to industry demands that certain information be given and certain information, like data speeds, be withheld. NTIA claimed victory because now the industry would give up its data.
There was no open request for proposal in Minnesota. There was no open bidding. This was a closed proceeding, and the fact that the University got in at all is a miracle. The fact that Connected Nation got the bid isn’t a miracle. It was a given.
O’Connor is one of the most well-informed, and closely involved, people dealing with broadband in Minnesota, an active member of the state’s Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force. He is, by his own admission, “pretty cranky“ about the whole process. I’ll let him explain: “I'm pretty cranky about this process. Nice n'cozy. Nice n'closed. Nice bypass of the Task Force. No public input at all as far as I can see. Looks like there was lots of opportunity for providers to provide input about their confidentiality needs, not too much input about what consumers need. Look forward to more sub-par optimistic maps, and impossible to use/verify data, peepul.”
He’s right. It was cozy. It was closed. And it happens again and again. He’s also right about who will be the losers when all is said and done.
Minnesota may not be the only state university to get ignored and cast aside in favor of the telephone industry’s chosen provider. We’ll see soon what happens in Georgia, where, sources say, Georgia Tech has put in an application to do the mapping, as has CN.