Yesterday was declared the birthday of the Internet. It’s  been an amazing 40 years. And the next 40 years will be even more amazing as the developments are accelerating. But one of the roadblocks to this future online world is our inadequate infrastructure – the too thin, too fragile tubes that are supposed to carry the rising flood of data.

The 7 billion or so dollars the Federal government is supposed to pass out for broadband infrastructure improvements, particularly for rural and underserved areas holds a lot of promise. But the distribution of those funds for real projects is hellishly slow and fraught with confusion.

For example, the first announced stimulus money is going to several states to undertake studies to map where broadband is deployed and where it isn’t. More studies? Don’t we already know where better broadband service is needed?fiber_optic

Now we learn that the current round of proposals that were supposed to be announced in early November won’t be announced until December. Given the number of questions raised by Congress there may be further delays while those questions and issues get sorted out. What constitutes “remote” for example:

Rockefeller echoed concerns expressed in the House about the definition of remote, which is currently defined as at least 50 miles from an urban area.

Adelstein said there is a growing consensus that the 50 miles might have been the wrong figure, and that there were other ways to define remote, like population density or income.

Rockefeller pushed the issue, asking whether that change would be made. “There is really no excuse for us not doing that,” he said. Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) also has problems with the current definition. He asked for more specficis.

Adelstein said everything is on the table in what will be a top-to-bottom review of how to better define remote, but at the same time not make the definition too complicated. “We’ll help you,” said Kerry.

Pretty crucial.

In the meantime, locally,  several proposals have been submitted and are waiting to learn if they will receive funding. Apparently, there is a short list but I have not found any information on which projects, if any, are on that list. Among the original proposals is one by Broadband Associates to build fiber along 299 with local access points along the way.

A competing proposal by IP Networks along Highway 36 that would not be providing local access. The latter project has a application before the California Public Utilities Commission’s California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). (Download the PDF for this grant application) Several local entities including the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro have sent letters of support to CASF for this project.

But others in the region are concerned that if the IP Networks project is funded either by California or the Federal Government, it will preclude funding for any other projects such as Broadband Associate’s 299 fiber build. This confusion and lack of unity as to what’s best for the region suggests a need for creating a region-wide telecommunications committee that would be able to address the region as a whole and provide planning and guidance in a coordinated way. There has been some discussion over creating such an entity, but nothing formal has emerged. It would be a shame if we started working at cross purposes instead of making wise choices that benefit the most people now and in to the future.