As feared, the Administration has caved to telecom industry restrictions on mapping the availability of broadband Internet, making it less likely that $7 billion in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus package, will actually help improve broadband access to people who don't have it.
According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Commerce Department said on Friday that companies such as Verizon Communications Inc, Comcast Corp., and AT&T Inc do not have to share how much money they make from each Internet subscriber. Nor must they say how fast their Internet connections typically run. Instead, they will provide data by the block -- not by the address -- which is usually about a dozen homes, depending on the size of the block. They also will share the speed of Internet service that they advertise -- not that they can actually provide.
One of the first steps in the process of expanding broadband Internet access in rural areas of the U.S. is for the Federal Communications Commission to produce a map of the areas that already have service -- and those that don't. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) came under criticism earlier this year for making $1.35 billion in loans that primarily added broadband Internet service to areas that already had it, rather than by bringing it to areas without it.
In fact, the funding had included $350 million to create such a map, though the Commerce Department is now saying only $240 million will be needed, according to the Post. Where that money is going to go -- since the map will be less detailed and will be apparently created using marketing material from the telecom vendors -- is not yet clear.
There had been concern earlier this year that Connected Nation Inc. was angling for that mapping contract, because Connected Nation is backed by big telecommunications companies such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T that potentially stand to benefit from the stimulus funding.