A Failure in Communications.

The Hill reports that in response to a probing letter sent from the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, Cliff Stearns, the head of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, revealed that the flawed National Broadband Plan he recently delivered to Congress cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million to produce. That, frankly, is a considerable sum for a government report like this.

Some $4 million of that went to pay 78 temporary staffers, some who worked for the full eight months that the 360-page report took to produce, and others who only served at the commission for part of that time. Genachowski described that cadre of temporary feds as drawing its numbers from the ranks of "consulting firms, law firms, investment firms and operating businesses, as well as non-profits and other organizations." Reading the report, one suspects that it's not accidental that Genachowksi listed consultants first. But that's neither here nor there at the moment.

What is more relevant is that $20 million is a substantial amount of money to spend on a report that dances at the margins of the essential dynamic of America's communications infrastructure: The scene is monopolized by a handful of immensely powerful corporations, government hasn't proved itself an effective check, citizens end up with very expensive broadband that runs slowly, where it's available at all.
Figuring out how to change that dynamic would have been worth $20 million.
But we don't really know much more about how to use the leverage of government to have telecom work better for citizens than we did eight months and $7 million ago.

The problem is that this is standard operating procedure when in comes to the politics of communications. Comm policy is one area where the political cost of poor policy-making is low for politicians because just about everyone of their colleagues is equally bad. It's painful to watch because there's a real opportunity for the Democratic Party to become the party of connectivity, of opportunity through innovation. But when they spend $20 million without offering a challenge to the existing imbalance and don't get whacked on the back of the hand for it, what's the incentive for Democrats to get better on this stuff?

--Nancy Scola

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