The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), this week held its third hearing examining the broadband loan and grants programs of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Rural Utility Service (RUS). During the hearing, members examined the speed and effectiveness of the loan and grant programs doled out through the president's stimulus program.
"The Recovery Act allocated $7.2 billion to these programs, dwarfing previous broadband loan and grant programs in size," said Walden. "And even though these agencies did not have grant-making experience or operations scaled to such a large project, the Recovery Act required that all awards be doled out within 18 months. We were told such haste was necessary to get the economy going and that the money would go to "shovel ready projects.' It's now been three years since the Recovery Act created BTOP and BIP, and more than 18 months since the last broadband loans and grants were awarded under those programs. The fiber is beginning to fill the trenches. While all the money has been awarded, only about one-third has been spent."
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) questioned Rural Utility Service Administrator Jonathan Adelstein as to why these projects have been delayed. Adelstein replied, "It has been a learning experience for me how difficult it is sometimes particularly on tribal lands to get all the clearances."
Rep. Charles Bass (R-NH), author of House-approved legislation to return unused or reclaimed funds made available for broadband awards in the stimulus to the U.S. Treasury, explained the importance of ensuring that the loans and grants in these programs do not adversely affect companies not receiving government subsidies. Bass said, "I hope that this program can be implemented with a sensitivity to the fact that it needs to go where it's really needed and not parallel existing capacity and not be set up in direct competition with private entities."