According to a majority staff memo, the House Energy & Commerce
Committee may proceed directly to "go" Friday with a bill that would
require any unused broadband stimulus money to be returned to the Treasury.
"Members are advised that the Subcommittee may proceed
directly into a markup of legislation following Friday's hearing, pending
discussions with the minority and scheduling issues," said the memo.
The memo was dated March 30 and comes in advance of a
hearing Friday on the bill. That hearing will feature the heads of the two
relevant agencies: Lawrence Strickling, who heads up the National
Telecommunications & Information Administration, and former FCC
Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who head up the Ag Departments Rural Utilities
which granted and loaned about $7 billion for broadband deployment and adoption
as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
Republicans are concerned about waste and fraud in the program--in
addition to money potentially being used to overbuild existing service or
misplace due to a lack of accurate data on where service exists. The memo
points out that "Some cable and phone companies believe awards have been
issued for projects that substantially duplicate their existing service
areas." That has long been a concern of the National Cable &
The bill would require NTIA
and RUS to terminate an award for a
finding of waste or fraud or insufficient performance associated with one of
its grants or loans, with that money going immediately back to the treasury.
Friday's hearing is a follow-up to a Feb. 10 hearing on the
broadband stimulus program.
At that hearing,
Republicans generally characterized the broadband stimulus program as
government money that was handed out with insufficient oversight and with a
shotgun approach that could wound the economy and discourage investment.
Democrats view it as a necessary long-term stimulus to the broadband-centric
economy by insuring affordable access to broadband to everyone.