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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wisconsin Officials Worry State Broadband Mapping Lag Could Jeopardize Federal Stimulus Funding

StimulatingBroadband.com 04/28/09 Boston -Wisconsin officials are expressing concern that their customer driven state broadband mapping effort may receive too few responses to accurately target broadband stimulus funds in the state. The worry is that without completed mapping, the Badger State will fall behind other states in the competitive rush to secure broadband grants, loans, and loan guarantees from the $7.2 billion in broadband funds from the American Recovery and Renewal Act of 2009 (ARRA).
A copyrighted story in yesterday's Wisconsin State Journal (Madison), states that 3,900 citizen survey responses have been received by the state Public Service Commission (PSC) up through April 16. While the program will remain open for responses into the summer months, the concern is that not enough responses will be received to plot accurate maps for broadband unserved areas.

While the otherwise mere technical issue of broadband mapping has stirred controversy nationally, most prominently in the critique of Connected Nation's mapping strategy by a collaborative of public interest groups, it has rarely been cast in such a problematic light as we may be witnessing in Wisconsin. What other strategies should the state PSC deploy immediately to remain competitive in the first funding round slated to kick-off with the NTIA's NOFA release by early July? Conversely, is Wisconsin voicing concerns about a necessary perquisite for any successful state broadband program that many states have not yet begun to consider?

We believe that a maximum of 20 states have effective broadband programs up and operating today. Not all of those jurisdictions have completed or even started a mapping effort. As Public Knowledge's Art Brodsky has declaimed, rather famously in these policy circles, broadband mapping has become The Great Distraction. We agree the imbroglio over mapping is distracting. We also know mapping remains necessary. Those of us that build networks, especially large carrier-grade networks, start with maps. Demand is mapped. Fiber is mapped. Competitor facilities are mapped. Everything is mapped. Rational choices and costing can't be produced without maps.

We believe that states need to share mapping best practices immediately. State regulators must order the carriers to produce public records of where they have deployed backbone, 'middle mile,' and access broadband networks. With that data in-hand the actual mapping is simple. We need to stop the distraction, and get on with building networks into unserved areas.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, like fellow Democrat, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, was an early Obama supporter, and a leader within the National Governor's Association who worked closely with the Obama Administration to secure state priorities in the ARRA. It would be a horrible irony if Wisconsin's mapping challenges prevent Doyle's Administration from delivering on the economic developmental potential of broadband in his very rural state.

If Wisconsin is not competitive in its quest for ARRA broadband monies, it would also certainly be a point of frustration for two of its leading elected officials, Senator Russ Feingold, and Congressman Dave Obey. As we previously reported, Sen. Feingold has been a leading voice in the US Senate for expedited funding for broadband projects in rural areas, like those of his state. Congressman Obey, from the state's rural northwestern 7th congressional district, is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Given that Appropriations originates all spending bills in Congress, Obey's name is the listed lead sponsor of the ARRA itself.
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