Without Oversight, RUS Broadband Grant Program Could Follow Path of Stimulus | Citizens Against Government Waste

Without Oversight, RUS Broadband Grant Program Could Follow Path of Stimulus

The WasteWatcher

The recently released Farm Bill contained many of the same wasteful spending items found in past Farm Bills, but also held a few surprises that if not contained with transparency and appropriate oversight could lead to further wasteful spending.

Among the new programs found in this year’s Farm Bill is a provision in Title VI, which would create a new grant program under the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to provide for broadband deployment in rural areas of the country (Section 6102).  This provision is intended to provide incentives to deploy broadband in hard to reach communities.  It is understandable that Congress is seeking ways to help bridge the digital divide.  However, in order to be eligible for funding, the applicant must request both a loan and a grant.  This will discourage other providers from applying for the grant program, limiting the potential to penetrate regions that are unserved. 

In addition, the bill authorizes an additional $350 million for this grant program.  While a few amendments were adopted during the committee markup which provided a unified standard for minimum broadband rates of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds for new construction and a minimum standard of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds for existing infrastructure for a rural community that already received a grant to be considered served by broadband, oversight and reporting requirements for the program remain minimal.  

Expanding broadband into rural communities, particularly those that are either unserved or underserved is crucial to the economy.  However, without critical oversight, the likelihood that the funding for this new grant program will follow the wasteful path of the 2009 RUS stimulus funding is high.  Congress must rein in wasteful and potentially duplicative spending on broadband infrastructure, build into any new program stringent oversight processes, and ensure that proper safeguards are in place before giving RUS more money to dole out.