Telecom's rattling tin cup

Asking a corporate CEO if he'll take money from the government is like asking a five-year-old if he wants to eat ice cream. About 90 percent of the time, the answer will be "Sure." (Another 9 percent of the time the response will be "Is there cake and ice cream?" One percent of the time the child will say "No," and is likely sick.)

If you turn to say, I don't know, the head executive of a major phone company, and ask him if he'd like some green thrown his way, it's most likely he's going to say "yes" early and often. As Dan O'Shea noted yesterday, Congress may allocate some of the to-be-determined-but-maybe-$500 billion in economic stimulus money to universal broadband access.

We don't know the details yet, but if you are discomforted by this coming on the heels of the bailout of the financial sector and a looming "or else" bailout for the U.S. automobile industry, I don't blame you. We're rushing to throw money at a problem without discussing the underlying cause of the problem - the fundamental change of the phone company from a (relatively) benevolent monopoly to profit-maximizing private entity.  

On top of that problem, we have a paradigm shift in universal access, which has broadened from affordable voice access to affordable broadband access.

Recent experience with USF is, shall we say, not encouraging. Adding more money in haste to build out broadband because we need a big ticket economic stimulus package is only asking for disaster. 

Let us (well, Congress and the incoming Obama administration) take the time to do this right than simply throw money at the problem. Let's set some reasonable goals and expectations along with proper accountability and financial penalties for underperformance - say, if you fail to complete a build-out on time or don't meet the promise of expanded coverage to an area.

- Doug

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