Broadband Stimulus Dollars Under Scrutiny

Aaron Flint posted on August 23, 2010 08:33 :: 2092 Views

The Montana Telecom Association is scrutinizing the award of $64 million in federal broabdand stimulus dollars to a Gallatin County firm.  

You may recall my initial post on the subject, posted the same day the funds were announced by the US Department of Agriculture.   

Since that time, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and the Lee Newspapers have also weighed in. 

Scott Johnson, the president of Global Net based in Bozeman told this to the Chronicle:

“For $64 million, they could fill in 90 percent of the (broadband coverage) holes in this state,” Johnson said. “There can’t be a single person with any kind of background that looked at this and didn’t go, ‘Wait a minute.'”

Johnson also said giving the money to a company with out-of-state ties is a slap in the face to purely Montanan businesses whose infrastructure work is not being subsidized by the government.

The head of the Montana Telecom Association points to the use of the funds as proof that the USDA is simply in too much of a hurry to spend all of the so-called “stimulus” funds. 

Even as questions abound, you gotta give Montana Opticom’s Dean Genge credit for pointing out this aspect:

Opticom spokesman Genge said he could understand the criticism from other companies. But, he said, Opticom followed the USDA’s rules and provided the required information for its funding application.

“Under the application process and the subsequent review and examination of the application, the USDA determined that this application and this program area qualified for funding,” Genge said.

Meanwhile, Lee Newspapers Mike Dennison looks into the background of the company who landed the $64 million in stimulus funds. 

The head of the firm that won a $64 million federal stimulus grant to install a new fiber-optic network in Gallatin County is part of a Pittsburgh family that owns property at the exclusive, gated Yellowstone Club at Big Sky and is involved in a similar development nearby.

James Dolan Jr., the manager of Montana Opticom, also owns property at Big Sky, including a lot at the private Spanish Peaks housing and golf course community – which, so far, is home to the only customers served by Opticom, a small broadband firm based in Gallatin Gateway.

Dennison added that the funding received letters of support from both Congressman Rehberg (R-MT) and Senator Baucus (D-MT).  (It should be noted that I rushed my original posting and stated all 3 members of the Congressional Delegation sent letters of support- Senator Tester’s office made clear that the senator did not offer support for any specific Montana telecom company)

Rehberg, who voted against the stimulus funding bill and has criticized it as wasteful spending, also wrote letters on behalf of several other telecommunications firms competing for the money, because he “supports Montana entities competing for federal funding,” said his spokesman, Jed Link.

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