Friday, June 12, 2009

GAO Report Supports Broadband Stimulus Goals, Coordination Needed

On June 10, 2009, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman, Communications, Technology, and the Internet Subcommittee Chair Rick Boucher, and Congressman Zachary Space released the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) report entitled Broadband Deployment Plan Should Include Performance Goals and Measures to Guide Federal Investment.” The Report found that despite the efforts of the market-based policies of the previous Administration to deploy broadband, gaps remain, primarily in rural areas. Because of limited profit potential, investments may be targeted to other more profitable areas, regions or countries.

The GAO noted that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided more than $7 billion to the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”), the FCC, and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Utilities Program, to map broadband infrastructure in the United States, develop a plan for broadband deployment, and issue loans and grants to fund broadband access and availability in rural areas. “This funding,” found the GAO, “will greatly increase the potential for achieving universal access, but overlap in responsibilities for these new broadband initiatives makes coordination among the agencies important to avoid fragmentation and duplication.” It added that “[t]hese efforts will help guide federal involvement in deploying broadband in the coming years. Additionally, the efforts complement each other.”

Specifically, it was found that NTIA’s data will allow all agencies to identify and cost effectively target federal funds to the areas with the largest unserved or underserved populations and will assist in the creation of the plan developed by the FCC. The GAO called on the FCC to include additional elements, such as timelines, specific performance goals, and clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the involved federal agencies to achieve transparency and accountability in the use of federal funds. “Increasing accountability for achieving intended results is especially important given the potential costs of expanding broadband deployment to currently unserved or underserved areas.”

As a result, the GAO recommended that the FCC’s national broadband plan, which is due to Congress by February 2010, include performance goals, measures, and time frames for achieving the goals. The GAO went on to recommend that the FCC Chairman consult with the Secretary of Agriculture and the head of NTIA on those goals, and work with them to define the roles and responsibilities of these agencies in carrying out the plan.

Lou Manuta

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