Dear Gov’t: Please Don’t Mess With Successful Programs

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While partisan bickering persists on Capitol Hill about budgets, spending and the deficit, people seem all too wiling to turn a blind eye to one of the main culprits behind America’s debt load – inefficient administration of government programs.

Take the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP), for instance, a $2.5 billion loan program administered by USDA’s Rural Utility Service to increase broadband connectivity among our nation’s underserved, rural and low-income communities. Instead of focusing on “more bang for your buck” type projects, like those focused on providing people of limited means with access to computing equipment and digital literacy training, the government decided to focus its efforts on building out more high-speed Internet…to areas where service was already available.

By the Federal Communications Commission own estimation, 95% of Americans have access to at least one broadband provider.  A recent study commissioned by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association demonstrates that BIP funding was being directed toward areas where at least 85% of the residents have broadband Internet access via fiber, DSL or cable connection.

By sending broadband to those areas where it already exists, the cost of Internet rollout in this country has increased from $23.5 billion to $87.2 billion.

Programs like BIP are well intended and very necessary, especially if we want to be sure that minority and low-income communities are adequately prepared to be full beneficiaries of the Internet Age.  However, their efficient administration is key for not only ensuring that the program works as it should, but also in making sure that the resources used to support these ventures are not used in vain.

Another RUS program – the Farm Bill Broadband Loan program – has spent nearly $2 billion since 2002 in much the same manner, supplying cheap loans to companies that cherry-pick areas already served rather than bringing infrastructure to the final 5-10% of Americans who have none. Unless Congress or RUS forces a change in the rules, another $300-400 million in loans could be wasted this year alone

The key to a successful government program is a great idea followed by a solid implementation strategy.

The government had a great idea when it decided to invest in the Internet as an engine of economic progress in this country.  Its implementation strategy would have been more solid had the focus been on tangibly increasing broadband adoption and making detailed accountings of successes and failures along the way.

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