Energy and Commerce Committee leaders today continued their investigation into the National Telecommunication and Information Administration's (NTIA) decision to award a $100.6 million stimulus grant to the EAGLE-Net Alliance in Colorado. The grant was funded through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), a $4.7 billion program included in the president's 2009 stimulus bill. In a letter to NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), and Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) expressed concern that the EAGLE-Net project has overbuilt existing fiber lines instead of extending service to "unserved" and "underserved" areas, as the law requires.
The leaders wrote, "While the Committee recognizes the importance of expanding broadband access to rural areas of the country, we are concerned by reports that the EAGLE-Net project has overbuilt existing systems rather than extend service to areas of Colorado that legitimately meet the underserved/unserved eligibility requirements. For example, on February 11, 2013, the New York Times reported that the EAGLE-Net project built a connection to an 11-student elementary school in Agate, Colorado which already had two existing high-speed fiber optic connections.
"Meanwhile, those areas of Colorado which truly lack high-speed broadband connectivity -- such as the communities along the Western Slope - are still waiting for the promised EAGLE-Net service to be turned on. We remain skeptical of that occurring on time and on budget in light of a February 28, 2013 report indicating that $96 million of the $100.6 million grant has already been committed or spent. Even more troubling to the Committee is EAGLE-Net's recent acknowledgement that only $7.8 million of the original grant money remains despite reports that the project is less than half complete."
In February, the Communications and Technology Subcommittee held its fourth hearing on stimulus broadband spending, during which Administrator Strickling denied that there were any problems with the EAGLE-Net grant. In March, Committee leaders requested the Government Accountability Office conduct additional oversight of the stimulus loan and grant programs in an effort to protect taxpayer dollars. Additionally, in May, Rep. Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) applauded plans by the Department of Commerce's Inspector General Todd Zinser to audit the the EAGLE-Net grant and requested that the IG gather additional information to assist the Committee's investigation.