Despite lavish praise from the Democratic majority on the House Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee over the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the RUS (Rural Utilities Service) distribution of broadband funding, at least one Republican has found reason to grumble about the process.
Out of $7.2 billion allocated by the Stimulus Act, To date, the two agencies have awarded over 60 projects totaling over $1.25 billion in grants in loans. The NTIA has also awarded nearly $100 million in broadband mapping grants to almost every state and several territories. The projects range from the creation of a fiber-optic network throughout Maine; to broadband connectivity in 65 communities in southwestern Alaska; to digital literacy training throughout Southern California.
Both the NTIA and RUS are in the process of allocating the remaining funds.
“I am encouraged by the changes made in the second NOFA (Notice of Funds Availability) issued late last year. They reduced administrative burdens on applicants, streamlined the application process, and now allow satellite providers to play a role in providing broadband service to rural areas,” said Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA). “I am particularly pleased with NTIA’s emphasis on so-called ‘middle-mile projects’ and a commitment to provide the best services at the best value to the American taxpayer.”
Yet ranking member Cliff Stearns (R-FL) found fault with the process.
“It has come to my attention that there have been some specific complaints about the overbuilding of existing networks,” Stearns said in his prepared remarks. “In north Georgia, NTIA awarded a $33.5 million grant to an area that already has extensive broadband service.”
Stearns contended that funding programs where existing providers already offer service could have a harmful effect on jobs and future broadband deployment.
RUS Administrator Jonathan Adelstein responded that the RUS has been effective in dealing with the complaints accompanying the first round of funding.
“Funding has been awarded to a diversity of providers–from small telecommunications companies, wireless providers, rural electric and telephone cooperatives to cable providers–to build out our rural networks, creating urgently needed jobs in rural America,” Adelstein said, claiming that funding improvements came in response to comments from Congress and the public.