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Broadband Program Oversight Questioned

A spokesman for the agency's rural utilities program said new rules were put in place last year that clearly defined what is and is not rural.

But some question the ability of the rural utilities service program to quickly get projects off the ground and create jobs.

Since it began 6 years ago, $1.8 billion in loans have been distributed. Of the 68 projects funded, 21 are nearly complete and about half have not begun. An Agriculture spokesman could not confirm whether the rural utilities service program has completed any projects.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the communications, technology and the Internet subcommittee, defended the program. He pushed for the inclusion of rural communities in his district last year and received an $800,000 grant that will give Tannersville, Va., broadband access and provide 10 desktop computers at a community center for residents to use.

"The grants in my district have been highly effective, low-cost solutions that have worked extraordinarily well," Boucher said. "I don't know why some would fault the program, but from my perspective the program is in a position to deploy with larger funding to get more broadband to more communities and the procedures are well established."

Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, however, fought against the expanded role of the rural utilities service program, said his spokeswoman Jamie Smith.

"He has a great deal of confidence in NTIA and believes they are best suited to disseminate the funds properly and ensure that we further the overall goal of achieving a national broadband policy," she said.

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