Costly ‘Lessons Learned’ In Madison Broadband-For-All Boondoggle

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The city of Madison spent a half million dollars of taxpayer money on a failed pilot program to bring broadband to four low-income neighborhoods.

So what did bureaucrats learn from this crash-and-burn experiment?

Not nearly enough, it seems.

“It is these lessons learned from the Digital Divide Pilot Project that will assist us in laying the foundational pieces for a stronger contract with the City of Madison’s next ISP (Internet Service Provider) partner,” sanguinely declares a “Lessons Learned” report (a thin four pages at that) from the city’s IT staff.

What these seemingly unfazed bureaucrats should have learned is that the pilot program and a broader, $173 million, city-owned broadband network is a huge waste of taxpayer money. It’s also an unnecessary pursuit in a highly connected city in which private broadband providers are already offering low-cost, high-speed internet options.

Some members of the city’s Digital Technology Committee get it.

“I had this fear that we were trying to solve a problem that maybe didn’t exist,” committee member Tom Mack said Thursday at a DTC meeting.

Committee member Samba Baldeh summed up the botched pilot program.

“A half million dollars for almost zero results,” he said.

In the end, the ISP partner that won the contract to lead the pilot program signed up just 19 customers out of a total of 979 potential subscribers in the low-income neighborhoods. Two of those subscribers were dropped for nonpayment, according to Herb King, technical services manager for the city’s Information Technology department.

“Only 1 percent of subscribers participated in the Digital Divide Pilot,” the “Lessons Learned” report forlornly notes.

The report’s recommendation for next time? Ask the residents of the neighborhood if they have any interest in the service. It evidently didn’t occur to anyone shepherding the project to ask questions like this first.

Photo: Getty Images

Read the rest of this story at the MacIver Institute:

Matt Kittle

Matt Kittle

Matt Kittle is a fill-in host for WIBA and WISN who is an investigative journalist for the MacIver Insititute Read more

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