Communications and Technology subcommittee passes broadband scrutiny bill

A House subcommittee passed a bill Friday to ensure that unused grant funds for two federal programs tasked with expanding access to broadband services across the country are returned to the U.S. Treasury.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the Communications and Technology subcommittee, said the legislation clarifies language that requires the programs to give back money awarded to projects that have been canceled. And it institutes a new requirement that would keep Congress in the loop regarding the awards.

The bill refers to stimulus funds granted to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which administers the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program launched two years ago to support the expansion of broadband access to all communities. The legislation also applies to stimulus-funded grants made by the Rural Utility Service’s Broadband Intiatives Program.

The Federal Communications Commission has set a goal of ensuring that 100 million U.S. homes have affordable access to broadband by 2015.

NTIA chief Lawrence Strickling and RUS administrator Jonathan Adelstein testified at the hearing. Both said that they welcomed the spirit of the bill, but added that its provisions are consistent with the agencies’ standard processes and current U.S. law.

Walden said that the bill provides important oversight of the programs and will “prevent misspent funds and fraud.”

Other members of the subcommittee have argued that those measures are already on the books.

After the bill passed, subcommittee ranking member Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said the new measure was redundant.

“We passed a bill which is already law and current Agency practice,” she said in a statement. “There are real issues the Subcommittee should be addressing to improve the economy, spur competition, and enhance public safety. After three months, four hearings, and two mark-ups, the Subcommittee has yet to consider a single bill that will actually help the American people.”

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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