On February 27, the House Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee held an oversight hearing on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) broadband stimulus programs: the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) directed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the Department of Commerce and the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) run by the Rural Utilities Service in the Department of Agriculture. Larry Strickling, the head of the NTIA, and RUS Administrator John Padalino testified before the Subcommittee.
On February 11, the New York Times previewed this week’s hearing noting that rural areas certainly suffer a lack of high-speed Internet access. While about 88 percent of urban households in the United States have access to high-speed cable Internet service, only 40 percent of rural households do, according to NTIA’s and the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Map About 20 percent of United States households have access to fiber optic Internet service, the fastest connection, compared with 86 percent in Japan and two-thirds in South Korea. But in the haste to get broadband everywhere, some grant planners appeared not to have taken into account the current condition of infrastructure.
The ARRA charged the NTIA with creating the $4.7 billion BTOP. Of that money, the NTIA used approximately $300 million to create a National Broadband Map and approximately $4 billion to award 233 broadband grants. Congress rescinded approximately $300 million in 2010 for other spending. NTIA used the rest for administration and oversight.
The ARRA charged the RUS with creating the $2.5 billion BIP. RUS dedicated $2.28 billion to broadband grants and used $87 million to back $1.26 billion in broadband loans. The RUS used the rest for administration and oversight. Altogether the RUS issued 320 BIP awards.
The NTIA says that by September 2012, its grant recipients had deployed more than 78,000 new or upgraded network miles in 51 states and territories; connected or improved service to 11,200 “anchor institutions” across 45 states and territories; and installed more than 38,600 new workstations in public computing centers across 38 states. The NTIA also says that training and adoption projects led 510,000 households and 12,000 businesses to subscribe to broadband services.
The RUS says that its awards will provide access to 2.8 million households, 364,000 businesses, and 32,000 anchor institutions across more than 300,000 square miles.
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