Back in 2009, we warned people that the President's mega-hyped "broadband plan" really just looked like a massive gift
to large incumbent providers, who were about to get an influx of taxpayer money, which would translate into next to nothing in terms of actual broadband deployments. Indeed, we've seen an awful lot of waste happening under the program, which is finally starting to come to light. Recently, the NY Times profiled widespread waste
in the program, suggesting that hundreds of millions of dollars are either being wasted or are part of various boondoggles to squeeze cash out of governments:
Nationally, $594 million in spending has been temporarily or permanently halted, 14 percent of the overall program, and the Commerce Department's inspector general has raised questions about the program's ability to adequately monitor spending of the more than 230 grants.
Perhaps nowhere are the details more apparent than in West Virginia. Ars Technica summarizes
a recent report
that is incredibly damning. The smoking gun? A $20,000 router installed in a one-room library the size of an ordinary trailer. But that's hardly the worst of it. At least that $20,000 router is being used (even if it's under-utilized).
Part of the reason for buying that router, rather than a cheapo one that would have sufficed, was that it would enable other services, including things like VoIP. The state bought 77 of them. Turns out that 75 are just sitting around collecting dust. And none of them can use the VoIP system they need.
Ironically, the routers can't even be used for VoIP in some key cases. The state police already have a VoIP-based phone system, but the new 3945 series routers did not come with "the appropriate Cisco VoIP modules" to work with the system. The state now has to spend another $84,768 to purchase those modules; without them, the state police can't use the routers, only two of which are actually installed and operating. (For those keeping score at home, this means that 75 $20,000 routers are depreciating in a state police warehouse somewhere in West Virginia.)
There's a lot of finger-pointing going on, but when it comes down to it, this is not at all surprising. Throwing billions of dollars into the broadband space with little reasoning or oversight always
leads to questionable behavior. So why do we keep doing it? Are there ways the government could spend on infrastructure and have it be powerful. Sure, but the Broadband Plan clearly was not it. And we're only learning about the abuse and waste now, after the money's been spent.