— Congress is angling to impose some training wheels on the Trump administration when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars on broadband deployment. Lawmakers are eyeing the reconciliation process for the farm bill as a way to check the Agriculture Department, which manages various telecom subsidies through its Rural Utilities Service agency. “Appropriate guidance in the farm bill being reconciled and the department’s continued vigilance are critical to avoiding another boondoggle,” a Senate GOP aide told MT on Wednesday, referring to past alleged waste in the program.
— The negotiations come as Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and telecom subcommittee chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) write a new letter cautioning Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to avoid duplicating any FCC efforts as it develops a rural broadband pilot program with $600 million Congress allocated for the purpose earlier this year. The lawmakers cite reporting from POLITICO on the mishandling of broadband funds under the Obama-era RUS, which some believe squandered hundreds of millions of dollars. Although Perdue previously has touted the Trump administration’s goal to better marshall existing funds, the lawmakers stressed some concerns: “While we know you are working to correct these past shortcomings … we strongly urge you to take the necessary steps to avoid the failures of the past Administration,” Thune and Wicker write.
— Thune has looked to GOP Commissioner Mike O’Rielly for guidance, questioning him on the topic last Thursday during an FCC oversight hearing. “There are some provisions in the farm bill that I appreciate,” O’Rielly told Thune. “I think they could go a little further.” O’Rielly said Congress should focus on making sure the money helps people who lack broadband options rather than subsidizing those who just have subpar internet service.
Source: POLITICO Morning Tech
I agree with this effort to ensure those without broadband have priority over those with sub-par broadband.