Are we funding computers, as well?

From a few days ago:

Members of a House committee charged yesterday that a five-year, $1.2 billion program to expand broadband Internet services to rural communities has missed many unserved areas while channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidized loans to companies in places where service already exists.

There’s not much shock there, of course, as success is in the details and government doesn’t handle details well, always forgetting the law of unintended consequences. Instead, it’s more fun to follow the words of members of Congress.

“If you don’t fix this, I guarantee you this committee will,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) told James M. Andrew, administrator of the Rural Utilities Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “I don’t know why it should be this hard.”

Last week, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) introduced legislation to close loopholes that allow areas that “are neither rural nor suffer a lack of service” to collect the loans and loan guarantees.

Congress shouldn’t have created this mess. It did. And now it’s blaming the USDA while implying that somehow the same people who messed this up can fix the problem now that it exists. It’s an absurd but classic move for a politician, demonstrating that politicians aren’t leaders.

Of course, the true discussion here is whether or not this program should be funded at the federal level. It shouldn’t. Broadband access to The Internets is not a public good. Still, for anyone who believes this is a public good worthy of being on the federal dole, consider:

Congress created the rural broadband program in 2002. To date, according to Andrew, 69 loans for $1.2 billion have been approved to finance infrastructure in 40 states. Only 40 percent of the communities benefiting were unserved at the time of the loan, Andrew said.

Forty percent. That’s good if it’s the success rate for a hitter in baseball. With everything else, it’s miserable. And we’re not even analyzing how successful that forty percent has been compared to what would happen with private efforts, assuming that private industry would deem it necessary. Heckuva job.