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In a front page (and above the fold) story in today’s New York Times, reporter David Herszenhorn asks if the “billions pegged to expand broadband Internet service to rural and underserved areas” will create jobs, expand services and help businesses or “become a $9 billion cyberbridge to nowhere, representing the worst kind of mistakes that lawmakers could make in rushing to approve one of the largest spending bills in history without considering unintended results.”

“The first rule of technology investment is you spend time understanding the end user, what they need and the conditions under which they will use the technology,” said Craig Settles, an industry analyst and consultant who has studied broadband applications in rural and urban areas. “If you don’t do this well, you end up throwing millions or, in this case, potentially billions down a rat hole. You will spend money for things that people don’t need or can’t use.” This argument mirrors a discussion taking place in Great Britain, where an expansion of broadband into rural areas is being questioned. The reporter does find, however, that the “the potential benefits of wider network access are indisputable,” but that it will take years to complete the work, negating any immediate stimulative effect.

The bill does leave open lots of questions. Who will benefit from its tax provisions? How will this work fit in with plans to build a “next generation” (i.e., much faster) Internet? “We can’t sit around waiting for the perfect in technology when we have the good before us,” Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska said.

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