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Obama Announces $1BN Broadband Investment

The President announced 66 nationwide broadband projects, as part of the Recovery Act, that will increase high-speed Internet access to, according to the press release “tens of millions of Americans and over 685,000 businesses, 900 healthcare facilities and 2,400 schools in all fifty states.” These grants total $795 million dollars, still only a fraction of the $7.2 billion earmarked for broadband in the Recovery Act. Over $200 million in private investment has been added to the projects, for a total of $1 billion in investment.

This is from the release:

There are two types of awards being announced tomorrow:

Infrastructure – Middle mile awards build and improve middle mile connections to communities lacking sufficient broadband access and last mile awards connect end users like homes, hospitals and schools to their community’s broadband infrastructure (the middle mile).

Public Computing Centers – Expand computer center capacity for public use in libraries, community colleges and other public venues.

Increasing broadband access to underserved communities not only adds jobs in the short term, but builds infrastructure for businesses that can hire in those regions. Broadband investment was one of several really good ideas in the stimulus.

But there’s a problem with making such long-term investments in a short-term bill, as Matt Yglesias notes:

In the popular imagining, the big problem with government is that it’s wasteful and inefficient. So if you want to build political support for an agenda of activist government, in practice it’s crucially to be extremely careful with how you dole out the money. But care is the enemy of speed. For purposes of countering a deep collapse in aggregate demand, the important thing is to clear the relatively low bar of “this is more useful than having people sit around earning no money doing no work.” And you want to do it quickly and forcefully enough that private businesses will be confident that people will generally have jobs and money and thus that there will be customers for private firms.

All that, however, is the enemy of trying to assuage people’s doubts about government activism.

I think the Administration just ought to take their lumps here. It’s a nice talking point to say that no waste or corruption has arisen from the Recovery Act, but dribbling out the job creating investments over the space of years defeats the purpose of the stimulus. It’s inexcusable to have released only 37.5% of the broadband grants 17 months into the enactment of the program. We know the communities which lack broadband access. The Administration has to get these projects moving.

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David Dayen

David Dayen