The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Congress Requests GAO Investigation into Broadband Overbuild

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


On February 13, 2013, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on the broadband stimulus programs managed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS).  At that hearing, a number of concerns were raised about the issue of overbuild within the programs across rural America, and issue that was highlighted in a previous Swineline blog post. In August 2012, the Federal Communications Commission’s annual broadband report showed that 94 percent of Americans currently have broadband service available to them.  Of the 19 million who do not have broadband service, 14.5 percent live in rural areas of the nation where provisioning broadband is difficult and costly.  Yet, testimony presented at the hearing suggested that some recipients of federal broadband stimulus funds may be using these funds to overbuild broadband on top of existing broadband service lines. On March 13, 2013, the Energy and Commerce Committee asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct an investigation into RUS’s Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP). Among the reasons cited by the Committee for this request is the concern that the project may be overbuilding in areas already served by existing broadband providers. Established in 1935, the RUS was charged with bringing electricity to rural communities.  That mandate has been updated and expanded over the years to include providing services such as broadband infrastructure to rural underserved and unserved areas of the country.  In its 2013 Prime Cuts, CAGW recommended eliminating the RUS program altogether, which would save $9.6 billion in one year with a five year savings potential of $48.1 billion. The larger question that needs to be address by the GAO is whether the RUS program has outlived its usefulness or lost sight of its mandate to provide utility services to rural underserved and unserved Americans.

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