Big Broadband or big boondoggle?

Big Broadband or big boondoggle?

An ambitious government plan to bring souped-up Internet service here is in trouble.

Champaign-Urbana residents have been hearing for several years now about what a big success "Big Broadband" is going to be. But the only thing people know for sure is that, as things stand now, it's a big mess.

Champaign, Urbana and the University of Illinois fell all over themselves three years ago to accept a federal grant aimed at bringing high-speed Internet access to local neighborhoods that were described as underserved. Unfortunately, as the federal grant that finances the work is on the verge of running out, Big Broadband finds itself dramatically short on customers but overflowing with complaints.

The installation process has been so bad that Champaign city officials recently fired the installation firm they hired — Power Up Electrical.

Power Up President Michael Kennedy was undaunted by the dismissal, blaming the city and describing himself as "proud of the job we did."

A big part of the problem, one city officials now acknowledge, is that the Big Broadband is a business, and Champaign economic development manager Teri Legner said "we never, ever envisioned that."

Really, why not? The whole project is predicated on the notion of providing a service, signing up customers to pay the cost of keeping operations afloat and making the necessary installations in a way that promotes consumer confidence.

They say if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. Big Broadband sure looks like a business — a failing business.

Installation work was sloppy and incomplete. Homeowners' property was damaged. Customers complaints were, if not ignored, largely unaddressed.

We've been skeptical of this process from the beginning, our doubts tempered only by the enthusiasm of supporters who kept assuring the public that Big Broadband is going to be a giant high-step forward. It had better be; a slew of private Internet providers offer solid service at no cost to the taxpayers.

But so far, it's not only not been great, just a great embarrassment — perhaps more evidence when government goes beyond the realm of its limited expertise it does half the job at twice the cost.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

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EdRyan wrote on May 30, 2013 at 8:05 am

Enterprise Fund....Publicly Owned Utility.  Lots of cities have them and they work very well for the rate paying public.  Try City Water Light and Power of Springfield, IL for example.  There is a very good working model for this.

CU_Local wrote on May 30, 2013 at 8:05 am

This is basically the same exact article as the one they posted yesterday...

rsp wrote on May 30, 2013 at 9:05 am

I think a big part of the problem is they've been trying to get out of it at the same time they were starting it. If they would just commit to making it a success I think it would be fine. I have the service and the only "glitch" was a switch. They had to come back out and flip a switch at the box. So we were a few hours late getting turned on. No buffering, no outages, no bad service. My biggest problem is how slow everyone else's internet is now. It really shows. If a company wanted in on expanding it you would think they would work hard at finishing the first part. Maybe that's what they need to use the extra tax money for. Low cost internet for the whole city. 

Alexander wrote on May 30, 2013 at 11:05 am

Your analysis presumes that "big business" will do it right. You have no evidence for that. Private utilities have gauged America (i.e, the "zero cost" to taxpayers).

Another cheap GOP hit job.

rconaway wrote on May 30, 2013 at 10:05 pm

When are the clueless taxpayers that think the government can give them something for what they percieve as nothing, going to get a clue?  If government bureaucrats knew anything about business, they would be in private industry.  So you have the most incompetent business people trying to do something that private industry already knows is not a good idea.  This is why Illinois is so broke. 

Marti Wilkinson wrote on May 31, 2013 at 9:05 pm

As a pretty satisfied UC2B customer I've already discussed my own perspective on the article that the NG published the other day. This included some of my own memories of the undertaking made by the cable company, and I was employed by the company at the time they rollled out high speed Internet.

Previous editorials by the News-Gazette have been consistently negative in regards to the efforts to bring UC2B to the community. Seeing this editorial on the heels of the article leads me to believe that people really need to 'consider the source' here.