The study isn’t new but it was discussed Before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives. I’ve tried to pull out the highest-level points. The need for better coordination and collaboration has never been higher as so much gets poured into rural broadband. The amount is not enough to get everyone covered, but certainly there are ways to maximize investment…
How much federal money has been invested and how much to come?
Our prior work found that federal investments from 2009 through 2017 totaled nearly $50 billion for broadband infrastructure in unserved or underserved areas. Starting in 2020, COVID-19 relief laws, along with regular appropriations, have provided an infusion of funding for broadband, including for many new broadband programs. Most recently, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act appropriated nearly $65 billion for new and existing broadband programs. Further, the President has set a goal of universal American access to broadband by 2030.
How many programs are there?
We identified at least 133 funding programs—administered across 15 agencies—that can be used to support broadband access, including support for planning and deploying infrastructure, making service affordable, providing devices, and building digital skills. Some of these programs support broadband as their main purpose or one possible purpose, and others can be used for multiple purposes related to broadband. Eligible recipients for these programs range widely and include: internet providers; other private sector entities; nonprofits; tribal, state, and local governments; education agencies; and healthcare providers. Through these programs, federal agencies invested at least $44 billion in broadband-support activities from fiscal years 2015–2020, according to our analysis of agencies’ data.6 See our report for a list of broadband funding award information by agency and program.
Having numerous broadband programs can be helpful to address a multifaceted issue like broadband access, but this fragmentation can also mean that programs overlap and lead to the risk of duplicative support.
What are the challenges in accessing funds?
- Identifying relevant programs
- Administrative complexity
- Complementary use of programs
- Unintended results of program restrictions
Is there a plan?
…there is no current overarching strategy that synchronizes these efforts and establishes agency accountability. FCC developed the National Broadband Plan in 2010, and while FCC officials said they still consider the plan relevant as a framework for modernizing policies, they acknowledge it is now outdated.14 Furthermore, officials from several agencies told us that no national broadband strategy of this scope is currently in effect.
What are the recommendations?
In our May 2022 report, we recommended that NTIA consult with relevant agencies, as well as the Office of Management and Budget and other White House offices, and present to Congress a report that identifies the key statutory provisions that limit the beneficial alignment of broadband programs and offers legislative proposals to address the limitations, as appropriate. At the time we issued the report, the Department of Commerce agreed with our recommendation. Since then, NTIA told us it plans to solicit input about statutory limitations and legislative proposals from relevant agencies during interagency broadband meetings. NTIA also told us that it plans to provide a report to Congress by May 31, 2026 that will, among other things, identify barriers and statutory limitations that limit the beneficial alignment of broadband programs and offer potential legislative changes, as appropriate.19
We also recommended that the Executive Office of the President develop and implement a national broadband strategy and that it include a national strategy for closing the gap in broadband access on tribal lands.20 Both strategies should include clear roles, goals, objectives, and performance measures to support better management of fragmented, overlapping federal broadband programs and synchronize coordination efforts. At the time of our report, the Executive Office of the President was considering if a national strategy was needed. As of this testimony, it has not developed a national strategy for broadband. However, the National Economic Council said it is prioritizing broadband coordination, including by chairing a leadership committee attended by key agency heads and convening a broadband working group that coordinates interagency efforts.