Despite the best efforts of the Obama administration to get the word out, a lot of people think that the $6 billion to be put into broadband under the economic stimulus package is the be-all and end-all of national broadband policy.
It just isn't true.
"In thinking of broadband in the economic stimulus package, don't confuse a piece of puzzle with the puzzle," said Obama transition team advisor Blair Levin about a week ago. "Don't look at an inning of the baseball game as the baseball game. The Obama broadband agenda is not being done solely in the economic recovery package."
I don't know if people weren't paying attention to what Blair said last week at the public forum on Capitol Hill, fixating upon the term "broadband" when it comes up in the economic stimulus package, or if there is impatience within the tech community for an instant happiness fix so we can have broadband everywhere overnight.
To the latter group I say - get real. President Obama and company have a lot of items on the plate, and universal broadband access is not some sort of wonder drug that will cure all of the country's ailments overnight. Even if all the money needed for broadband were to be allocated tomorrow, we have no clear path as to how it would be allocated or what strings will be attached. And that's before the lobbyists of the various telecommunications interests - the quad play of wireline, wireless, cable and rural - work on greasing things
To summarize and reiterate what Levin said at the State of the Net Conference last week for the former groups:
1) There is some - but nowhere near perfect - overlap between these stated goals: economic stimulus to create jobs, national broadband deployment, and management oversight to minimize waste, fraud, and abuse.
2) To be effective, an economic stimulus package has to be timely, targeted and temporary. There's not a lot of room for creativity; you have to use existing programs.
3) Public policy goals for national broadband need to address the unserved and the underserved - people who don't have fiber (yes, Blair said fiber), produce a national network for public safety, and include a robust competitive market for broadband.
Bottom line: The $6 billion in the economic stimulus package is a down payment for national broadband, not the cure-all.
Based upon what Levin said, there's going to be more money and a lot more policy to be articulated in the months ahead. Let's hope people will have enough patience to see good policy formulated in a timely fashion, rather than slapping something together for a quick happy fix.