Witnesses Set For Broadband Oversight Hearing

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Eagle Communications president Gary Shorman will be among the witnesses at a House Communications Subcommittee hearing Feb. 10 on the broadband stimulus program, according to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Shorman will talk about a $101 million award that he says appears to be for overbuilding a broadband network where Eagle and AT&T already provide service.

Eagle and NCTA have raised warning flags before about the project. Shorman will not ask that the project's funding be withdrawn, but instead confined to areas that are unserved or served only by the rural phone service that got the award.

Also scheduled to testify are: Todd Zinser, inspector general of the U.S. Department of Commerce; Phyllis Fong, inspector general, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Mark Goldstein, from the Government Accountability Office; and Donald Welch, Ph.D, president of Merit Network Inc.

The subcommittee scheduled the hearing on the billions of dollars in broadband stimulus money given out by the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The new Republican leadership has expressed concerns over how that money was being spent and how the agencies were protecting those investments from waste, fraud and abuse. Oversight of the program was on an internal priority list circulated to committee members last month.

According to a hearing notification e-mail, the Republicans plan to circulate draft legislation in advance of the hearing. The bill would "increase accountability" for the stimulus spending and "return unused or reclaimed broadband stimulus funds to the U.S. Treasury."

Together, Commerce's National Telecommunications & Information Administration's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service approved about $7 billion in grants and loans for broadband deployment and adoption. The last of the grants was made in late September.
NTIA's funding for oversight is scheduled to run out soon, a concern for Republicans who argue the program is vulnerable to waste and fraud.

The hearing comes a week before the Feb. 17 deadline for NTIA to publish an online, interactive national broadband map.

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