The carping about the broadband stimulus package that has become common-that awards are slow and cumbersome and that the system is being abused-is both predictable and right on the mark.
The good news is that the complaints have been heard. The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) clearly are rethinking matters and appear open to reason. That's laudable, but promises to do better in the future don't completely eliminate issues that exist now. The MercuryNews starts its discussion of the topic with a vignette about Scotts Valley, Calif.-based Surfnet Communications and its principal, Mark Morgenthaler.
Morgenthaler wants to use stimulus money to do exactly what the original intent of the initiative was: to hire people -- 15, in this case-and extend the company's wireless services to unserved areas. He rushed to meet filing deadlines, but he has gotten none of the approximately $3 million in grants and loans for which he asked. The piece doesn't offer any solutions, but does a good job of laying out the problems.
The Tech Liberation Front also offers a look at what's gone wrong. It isn't pretty. Writes James Gattuso:
In a report recently released by the GAO, the government watchdog agency warns of possible waste, fraud and abuse in $4.7 billion broadband stimulus grants to be made by NTIA and the Rural Utilities Service.
Gattuso points out that the problems were predictable. NTIA and RUS haven't dealt with grants this large before and have to make their awards before the national broadband map is ready.
As with many things related to the Obama administration, people's patience is running a bit thin. It's widely acknowledged that the new folks inherited a number of big messes, and that it would take quite a while to slowly turn the ship around. The problem is that the problems described in these reports point to the type of behavior that cynics cited in opposition from the start.
My hope is that the NTIA, RUS and others wring out the bad actors, read the riot act to lazy civil servants, politely jettison overmatched personnel, tweak procedures and otherwise create shortcuts through the learning curve that has scuttled many worthy projects in the past.