Due to concerns about overbuilding, interagency coordination, and the mismanagement of appropriated funds, U.S. Reps. Greg Walden (R-OR), Bob Latta (R-OH), and several of their Republican colleagues on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee this week called for a federal audit of the Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program, which funds high-speed broadband internet deployment in America’s rural areas.
Known as the ReConnect Pilot Program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the temporary program in March 2018 was appropriated $600 million in new funding when the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 was enacted into law. Congress in 2019 and 2020 subsequently appropriated more than $1.45 billion to the pilot program, the lawmakers wrote in a Nov. 23 letter requesting an audit from U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.
“As the committee of jurisdiction on communications policy, it is our responsibility to ensure federal programs to expand broadband infrastructure and connect all Americans are administered efficiently and effectively,” wrote the lawmakers in their six-page letter. “Without appropriate oversight, however, we are concerned that this program could overbuild existing federally and privately supported broadband networks.”
I find it striking that there’s great concern about overbuild – yet I don’t recall hearing any concerns about underbuilding networks when recipients of CAF funding (also administered by USDA) reported they would be missing buildout milestones in January 2020 or May 2020 (when they cited COVID issues as contributing factor).