In his role as Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, GOP Whip John Thune (R-SD), said he’s launched a nationwide “oversight effort” to review numerous broadband programs spanning several federal agencies. The goal “is to hold these agencies accountable and ensure that previously authorized broadband funding is being used in the most efficient way possible to protect taxpayer dollars,” he says.
In a letter to broadband associations, think tanks and other stakeholders, Thune seeks input on the current broadband regulatory structure. “Every federal dollar that has been spent should go toward the stated purpose of expanding connectivity to truly unserved areas,” says Thune. “Congressional oversight has been noticeably absent in these areas, and there is serious concern that the federal government would repeat previous mistakes where agencies’ gross mismanagement of broadband funds fell on the backs of taxpayers across the country.” Continue Reading
He cites a GAO report that Inside Towers covered, which noted, “The GAO found that broadband funding is spread out over 15 separate agencies and more than 130 separate programs. U.S. broadband efforts are not guided by a national strategy with clear roles, goals, objectives, and performance measures.” This creates a serious risk of misallocating the broadband funding Congress has appropriated which may result in billions of taxpayer dollars being spent with little to show, according to the Senator.
Some of the questions he poses are: did NTIA follow Congress’ intent in establishing a technology-neutral approach to the funding criteria for the Broadband, Equity, Affordability, and Deployment (BEAD) program? If not, should Congress consider amending the Infrastructure Law to make it more explicit that all technologies are allowed to participate?
He also touches on BEAD’s labor requirements. “There are detailed reporting requirements on subgrantees who do not use a unionized workforce or a project labor agreement. As a practical matter, do you think this favors certain providers over others? Does Congress or NTIA need to take further action to remove this requirement?”
Thune asks whether BEAD requirements promote government-funded networks. Noting the Infrastructure Law requires products and materials used for broadband projects to be produced in the U.S., given the supply chain delays, Thune asks whether Congress should modify this requirement.
Finally, he asks whether updating pole attachment regulations would spur more rural broadband deployment. If so, what actions should be taken? Thune seeks responses by January 6, 2023.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief