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February 12, 2009

Economic Stimulus & Internet Infrastructure [2:21 pm]

Broadband Program Oversight Questioned (pdf)

Congress has targeted more than $6 billion to wire rural America with Internet service as part of the nearly $790 billion stimulus plan. But the bill would place much of those funds in an Agriculture Department program that has been criticized for its past management of grants, raising concerns among some public interest groups.

Under a deal House and Senate leaders negotiated yesterday, about $1.5 billion would fall under the oversight of the USDAs Rural Utilities Service, a program launched in 2002 to connect farming towns to high-speed, or broadband Internet, according to a Senate Commerce Committee aide.

Some public advocacy groups are critical, citing a September 2005 report on an investigation by the USDAs inspector general that found that $236 million, or more than one-quarter, of the programs loans under review “was either not used as intended, not used at all, or did not provide the expected return of service.”

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