from the actually-paying-attention dept
Late last year consumer group Free Press released a report showing how numerous broadband providers had been gaming the FCC’s RDOF (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund) subsidy program to get money they didn’t really deserve. The program doles out roughly $9.2 billion in subsidies paid for by money paid by consumers into the Universal Service Fund (USF). The study clearly showed that during the last RDOF auction a long list of ISPs gamed the system to gain millions in subsidies to deliver broadband to areas that didn’t make any coherent sense.
This ISP, for example, nabbed millions of dollars to deploy service to places that already had it — like five feet outside of Apple’s $5 billion new campus. Elon Musk’s Starlink also managed to nab $886 million in subsidies to deploy broadband service to places like airport parking lots and traffic medians.
The whole mess was just completely ignored by previous FCC Boss Ajit “what broadband competition problem” Pai. After months of withering criticism from numerous fronts, the FCC under interim boss Jessica Rosenworcel has stepped up and fired off letters to several of the worst offenders, giving them a second chance to apply for funding with proposals that actually serve the public interest:
“The Federal Communications Commission told SpaceX and other companies on Monday that the billions in rural broadband subsidies it doled out last year can?t be used in already connected areas like ?parking lots and well-served urban areas,? citing complaints. The commission, in an effort to ?clean up? its subsidy auction program, offered the companies a chance to rescind their funding requests from areas that already have service.”
Granted the problems with the RDOF subsidy process is just one small part of a much bigger problem. For years the government has doled out billions of dollars to telecom giants for fiber networks they then routinely half deploy. Inaccurate maps and availability data then mar the process further, obscuring not only the lack of access (up to 42 million Americans still can’t access broadband) but the way a lack of overall competition harms consumers and raises rates (83 million Americans live under a broadband monopoly).
Thanks to the immense political influence giant telecom providers have over Congress and regulators, efforts to improve the entire mess comes glacially, when they come at all. That’s not to ignore the huge benefit subsidies can have on less affluent and disconnected areas of the country when applied correctly, but, for decades now, regional monopolies have dictated US telecom policy. And the result has generally what you’d expect: namely billions in pointless tax breaks and subsidies thrown at companies like AT&T in exchange for layoffs, pipe dreams, and perpetually half completed networks.