One of the largest new spending programs in the federal government is designed to aggressively expand broadband Internet service to underserved communities in places like Idaho.
Congressman Walt Minnick is calling on federal agencies to be more accountable and transparent in allocating that money, and to do more to help rural Idaho communities get the Internet service they need. Today Minnick met in-person and via conference call with representatives from Idaho companies and agencies that applied for the first round of funding from more than $7 billion in federal grants available for investment in broadband Internet infrastructure.
"This application process has quite frankly not worked as well as it could or should," Minnick said. "While I am impressed and very supportive of the Idaho folks who did apply for funds, I am concerned that problems with the bureaucratic process are preventing those applications from being properly considered. I am also deeply troubled by the lack of understanding by these agencies of the unique issues and needs of Idaho."
Earlier this week Minnick questioned the heads of the Rural Utility Service (RUS) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with those very concerns. The hearing was held by the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Rural Development, of which Minnick is a member. He asked about steps being taken to ensure the process is free of outside influence, and expressed concerns that the agencies' definition of "remote" excludes many rural Idaho communities desperately in need of broadband service.
Minnick has directed his Idaho and Washington, D.C., offices to invest energy and time to assisting entities navigate the complicated federal application process so more Idaho communities have a shot at funding for broadband, something Minnick said is critical to business growth and educational opportunity.
"Like the many mayors, business leaders and economic development professionals I have met around my district, I believe that high-speed Internet access is one of the best tools we can offer to help smaller communities jump-start their economy," Minnick said. "I am committed to helping those who applied for funding and those who want to apply for future funding, by cutting through bureaucratic red tape and advocating for Idaho."