The House Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing examining whether taxpayers are getting their money’s worth four years after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $7 billion for broadband grants and loans.
A background memo for the Subcommittee’s majority staff highlighted that approximately $611 million of the funding covering 42 projects has been revoked, relinquished, or suspended. Republican members of the Subcommittee claimed throughout the hearing that the program is rife with wasteful spending. "Promoting broadband is a laudable goal. But there are many laudable goals," said Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR). "From what we know now, the government has spent millions on equipment it did not need and on stringing fiber to areas that already had it." Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) questioned the necessity of the broadband stimulus and suggested that the $2.5 billion in unused funds should be given back to the Treasury.
Subcommittee Democrats, however, defended the spending, which is made up of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP). They argued that while there will always be problems with large government programs, the broadband stimulus has been worthwhile. "The investments made in broadband infrastructure are having a profound impact in local communities around the country," said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), the ranking member of the subcommittee. "I don't really understand how any of my colleagues can argue that providing better, faster Internet and more digital literacy training to underserved and unserved areas of this country is something we should criticize," Rep. Mike Doyle (R-PA) said.
Larry Strickling, the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees BTOP, pushed back against the Republican criticism in several testy exchanges with lawmakers.
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