A battle brewing in Montana between the rural telco establishment and Bresnan Communications, a Purchase, New York based cable MSO is illustrative of the potential competitive impact of the broadband stimulus program. Bresnan applied for $70 million in funding to build a statewide fiber network in Montana, and received the endorsement of the state’s Governor, Brian Schweitzer. Rural telephone service providers have said ‘not so fast’ and have stepped up a campaign to defeat the proposal.
The Billings Gazette outlines the brewing battle. Associations representing rural telcos throughout the state recently took out full page ads in all major state newspapers opposing the network, which if approved, would be funded by the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus program. The rural telcos argue Bresnan’s network would overbuild their existing fiber networks, doesn’t fit the goals of the stimulus program, and is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Bresnan obviously disagrees with that assessment. The fight is getting downright nasty. “This is clearly a reaction to protect their status as preferred, subsidized providers,” Shawn Beqaj, vice president of communications for Bresnan tells the Billings Gazette.
This Montana dust up highlights some difficult questions for the broadband stimulus program. Should the program focus on bringing broadband to unserved and underserved populations only, or should it fund competition that will conceivably lower prices for rural customers (both consumers and business), who may have limited broadband options? The Governor’s office believes competition should play a role. “We believe, the more the merrier, in terms of reaching the objective of affordable, quality services. Competition is what our interest in this thing has been,” Evan Barrett, the governor’s chief economic adviser told the Billings Gazette.
Similar battles are happening across the country. Indeed, the broadband stimulus program, rightly or wrongly, may fuel some interesting competitive battles, both in policy debates and actual marketplace duels.