Discussing the effects of the Stimulus Bill or more accurately known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 passed by congress to assist an ailing economy is fraught with pitfalls, but I think worthwhile for our industry to consider more deeply. There are many things in the Stimulus Bill that we can each take issue with, such as various pork barrel projects, extending unemployment benefits, assisting with COBRA payments to extend healthcare, and identifying the right infrastructure projects. What I find as ideologically driven, is the overwhelming conclusion that the effort to influence the economy or infrastructure has failed. When the bill passed critics pointed out that most of the money in the bill would not be spent until 2010. Their argument was it needed to be spent more quickly. I, for one, am very concerned about the pace of government spending and if we are going to do so, that it be done wisely.
We member s of the telecom industry can debate whether the process to receive the money was too complicated, restrictive, and bureaucratic. However, what we cannot say is that spending the $7.2 billion had no effect on our industry or job creation. This is because little to none of it has been spent. To date, a total of $815 million has been awarded and all of that this year. I seriously doubt any significant percentage of the money has been spent. Sure projects have been identified. People have been retained to engineer network deployments and enhancements but it will take months before the awarded projects are actually in full construction mode. Consider also that the U.S. Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and U.S. Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) still have to award $2.5 billion dollars from the first phase with an obligation to award another $4.7 billion by September 30.
The key word here is award. The government is making awards, which is not the same thing as spending. The companies receiving these awarded sums are developing the plans to spend the money in order to implement the winning projects.
Therefore, the real questions are how do we accelerate the selection process without compromising its integrity and stimulate the spending of the stimulus money on selected broadband projects more quickly? That should be worth a few beers and beer nuts.
See you on Friday...