USDA broadband grants ditch California again

27 July 2015 by Steve Blum
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It’s sounding like a broken record (if anyone actually remembers what a broken record sounds like). The federal agriculture department’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) announces another round of Community Connect grants, for local broadband projects in poorly served or completely unserved areas, applications come in, the winners are announced and California comes up with goose eggs (anyone remember what that means either?).

That’s been the story for four years running now. RUS awarded a total of $13 million in Community Connect grants for five projects in four states: Alaska, Minnesota (which was down for two), Oklahoma and Virginia.

The list contains a big clue as to why California might have been shut out: four of the five projects were awarded to telecommunications cooperatives, a business model that’s commonly used in midwestern and southern states (and Alaska). The U.S. department of agriculture in general, and RUS in particular, goes with what it knows. And it’s most familiar with the tiny counties and family farm economies of the midwest and south.

There are only three rural utilities cooperatives in California, and all of them were primarily organised to provide electric service, although a couple have also branched off into broadband.

The fifth grant went to a private wireless Internet service provider, AtLink in Oklahoma. The company seems to understand the system. It website says it received a federal stimulus program grant, via USDA.

It’s easy and, I think, correct to blame bureaucratic shortsightedness and inertia for the lack of love shown California. But that’s not going to change anytime soon. Californian Internet service providers need to learn how to play the game too:

Certainly the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you; if you don’t bet you can’t win. RAH.