It is no secret that the National Cable & Telecommunications Association is not a big fan of how the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service has handed out its broadband loans and grants.
Speaking for NCTA's Rural and Small Operators Committee, Suddenlink executive VP Dave Rozzelle makes that crystal clear to Congress according to the prepared testimony for a hearing in the House Agriculture Rural Development Subcommittee.
The Subcommittee is vetting the rural development programs in the 2012 farm bill, and NCTA definitely wants improvements over the last version three years ago, specifically in how RUS funds broadband build-outs. Rozzelle and NCTA both support rural broadband funding, they say.
What they don't support, and what they say RUS has been doing both with farm bill and broadband stimulus money, is not focusing on unserved areas and funding overbuilding of providers who are operating on risk capital rather than a government subsidy.
Given what NCTA calls RUS's "consistent failure" to focus on unserved areas -- the Agriculture Department Inspector General came to that conclusion in two separate reports, Rozzelle points out -- it asks that if the broadband loan program in the farm bill is to be reauthorized, four things should happen.
- Loan guarantees or grants should be limited to areas where at least 75% of residential households lack access to broadband at the FCC high-speed definition of 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.
- Existing providers should be able to supply evidence of service overlaps in areas proposed to be served by RUS applicants.
- Give priority to loans, loan guarantees and grants to areas with the greatest proportion of households without broadband with that baseline speed.
- Require grantees to report quarterly on their use of the funds, with that info published on the RUS website.