Internet ‘black holes’ spark new battle for broadband
The difficulty, however, remains significant for nonprofit efforts, a challenge of scale that existing commercial telecommunications providers will frequently point out.
Currently, Community Media is trying to raise $ 3 million for the first phase of its network plans, which would serve approximately 1,200 homes in Adams County. Project managers cite a good chunk of upfront expense, with planning studies up to $ 50,000. They have already secured grants in the past two years and have worked with companies to do a feasibility study. Engineers estimated that it would cost between $ 15,000 and $ 30,000 per mile to lay a fiber-optic cable. The total cost to the county could be between $ 50 million and $ 100 million, Gouker estimated.
Such infrastructure, they say, could revitalize the corridor, helping to install broadband along a local highway serving many adjacent businesses as well as a local community college.
They have considered many potential sources of funding and see the federal pandemic relief adopted in March as particularly promising. Other options faltered. Last year, they hired an outside firm to help them navigate what they saw as a complicated application process for an FCC rural broadband auction, but found out they wouldn’t. able to earn a lot of money. And the Department of Agriculture’s particularly low standards for broadband speeds put them out of the race for federal assistance from USDA programs, because by those standards, Adams County is generally considered connected. .
Some sections of the county will lose out, they admit, but they say the benefits are greater, especially in the long run.
In Washington, the broadband debate revolves primarily around the role of the private sector versus the public.
Republicans oppose removing the private sector, despite their own interest in providing connectivity to rural voters who tend to vote Republican. Adams County itself has generally leaned to the right, with Biden winning just 32% of the vote last November. Republicans raised these broadband concerns at an Oval Office meeting this spring with Biden and Harris discussing infrastructure.
“You can’t have a scenario where the federal government comes in and serves as an employer, serves as a mother, comes in and caters to all of your needs,” said one participant, Rep. Garret Graves (R-La) afterwards. ,. “It’s unaffordable, it’s unhealthy.”
The White House’s emphasis on municipal broadband is “a source of great concern; it’s a path we don’t need to start, ”said Roger Wicker of Mississippi, a senior Senate commerce committee official, in an interview in mid-May during the Senate GOP infrastructure negotiations. with the White House. “I think we can show that this is not a good approach based on competition and history.”
Instead, a top priority for the GOP is to streamline the licensing process to make it easier for private ISPs to develop broadband, especially on federal lands. Republicans also routinely say the federal government should better mobilize and coordinate existing broadband subsidies, which run into tens of billions of dollars, before launching many billions more. They warn against funding projects that compete for business in areas that ISPs claim to already serve, which could hamper the industry’s investment in its own capital.