The rules of the road for the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus package announced today (July 1) hit a lot of high notes, putting public policy in favor of an open and non-discriminatory Internet front and center for projects that would bring the Internet to unserved and underserved areas.
“Without a non-discrimination condition, network operators could give preferential treatment to affiliated services, or charge some application and content providers for “fast lanes” that would put others at a competitive disadvantage,” the document said. It couldn’t have been put any more clearly.
Not only is having an open and non-discriminatory network part of the program, but applicants will be graded on how open the network really is, getting more bonus points for “exceeding the minimum requirements for interconnection and nondiscrimination.” Applicants will also get brownie points for offering faster speeds on their network, and for offering wholesale access. That’s using the incentive method, rather than simply ordering wholesale access. The fact that the grant program also will have money set aside for so-called “middle mile” projects is also a plus. There’s little point in extending service in the “last mile” to a home if the connection doesn’t extend back through the network and out to the Internet. That piece, from the local Internet Service Provider, out to the rest of the world, is the “middle mile” which needs to be served.
The mapping portion is more of a disappointment. On the bright side, the plan for the broadband map calls for a lot more detail than has been reported previously, if the confidentiality portions of the program don’t ruin it.
On the other side, the special-interest legislation that started the whole mapping craze has fulfilled its ultimate purpose. Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) legislation wasn’t called the “Connect the Nation Act” for nothing. This was the bill that mandated that only non-profits could receive mapping grants – because Connected Nation, a group that exists to protect information submitted by telephone and cable companies, is a non-profit and wrote the bill. And it’s wired deeply into many states. Our cautionary tale goes into it in more detail of how Durbin's bill became the gift that kept on giving. The challenge for the government now will be to rescue the data plan from the clutches of the people who want to game the system.