Friday, July 24, 2015

Ellicott City Stimulus: "Federal Welfare" to "Free WiFi"

We received some exciting news earlier this week with the announcement that "Free WiFi" has been installed in Ellicott City.  I've used it at least five or six times since it was installed and find it to be a great addition to Main Street.  You can even access the network at the Roger Carter Center to stream music while you workout!

As reported by Amanda Yeager with the Howard County Times, this is of no (direct) cost to Howard County taxpayers.  The project receives its funding from revenue generated by leasing access to the Inter-County Broadband Network (ICBN) to private businesses.  Money from the sky, right?  Sort of.  As you all will remember, the ICBN was funded by a $115 million federal grant under the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (part of President Obama's federal Stimulus Package), $72 million of which was managed by the Ulman Administration for the installation of broadband fiber across nine jurisdictions with matching funds from state and local budgets.

That sounds like quite the expense.

And, as with any large expense, it was controversial.  Republicans reject the concept of "stimulus spending" in general and opposed this (big S) Stimulus Package in particular.  You may recall that it was around the 2010-2013 period that we were hearing about it being time to "tighten our belts" and that the government should make the same budget cuts that families across the country were making.  Republicans here in Maryland, and even Howard County, were suggesting that O'Malley should reject any stimulus funds (including those targeted for the ICBN) and that these funds were "federal welfare payments".

"Federal welfare" sounds so much nicer when you call it "Free WiFi".

 The fact of the matter is that investments in our infrastructure, whether in good times or bad, are almost always a good bet.  In this case, federal, state, and local spending, during a very bad time, have provided a consistent source of revenue in a much better time.  Not only that, these funds have been used to promote economic and quality of life improvements years after the money was spent.  I'm not saying that you have to have loved every part of the Stimulus Package to love the ICBN, but I am saying you need to be particularized with your dissent.  If you want to say that this was an irresponsible expenditure, you have to do it in the context of great projects like "Free" WiFi in Ellicott City.

Maybe instead of naming the network FreeHoCoGovWiFi it should have been "ThanksObama".

Have a great Friday doing what you love.  It's impossible not to.