Several House Commerce Committee Republic leaders are asking the Government Accountability Office to audit the Agriculture Department’s ReConnect pilot program. The program distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and grants to build out rural broadband. The lawmakers worry some of that money is going to waste.
Congress appropriated more than $1.4 billion for the program. Phase 1 awarded $698 million to 79 entities across 33 states. Phase 2 has awarded $642 million to 83 entities across 34 states so far.
Ranking Committee leader Greg Walden (R-OR) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Ranking member Bob Latta (R-OH) led a letter signed by nine other GOP leaders on the committee to the GAO. “Without appropriate oversight … we are concerned that this program could overbuild existing federally and privately supported broadband networks,” they wrote.
They note that both the Department of Commerce and the FCC have subsidy programs to help rural broadband rollouts and they don’t want to see an overlap. “We request GAO review whether USDA coordinates effectively with the FCC to ensure RUS [Rural Utilities Service] funds, including those made available for the ReConnect Pilot Program, are not sent to areas also receiving USF [Universal Service Fund] funds.”
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