As Congress searches for spending cuts amidst a looming government shutdown, Digital Liberty had a piece in Townhall.com today urging them to rescind nearly $800 million in federal broadband funds that are currently sitting unused. Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture not only loans hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars out to companies to build-out broadband, but they and the Commerce Department also received a combined $7.5 billion in stimulus funding for the same purpose. This despite the fact that well over 95 percent of Americans already have access to mobile broadband service. From the column:
Unsurprisingly, the USDA’s broadband loan program, officially launching in the 2002 Farm Bill, is fraught with fraud, waste, and abuse. In 2005 the Department’s Inspector General found over half the money they reviewed was spent on unrelated projects or had been awarded to companies who didn’t even complete their applications. Many of the loans had also defaulted, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
The loan program also picks winners and losers in the market; taxpayer-funded companies have a competitive advantage over others with only private capital. By 2009, over three-quarters of the loans went to communities that already had broadband service – and nearly 60 percent of the taxpayer money went to places with two or more providers.
The pieces also praises Rep. Greg Walden, chair of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, for pushing bill last week that provides better oversight of broadband “stimulus” money and ensures money not utilized goes directly back to the U.S. Treasury. CLICK HERE to read the entire piece.