GAO to FCC: Improve reporting on Internet, phone subsidies

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report is calling for more transparency and accountability for federal subsidies for phone and Internet service in rural areas.

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The GAO report released this week took issue with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) reforms to the parts of the Universal Service Fund — a collection of subsidy programs dedicated to making Internet and phone service more accessible — targeted at rural areas.

The report pointed to “a lack of transparency and accountability” around how those rural subsidy funds are spent and “poor accessibility and usability of data and information.”

“While FCC collects and reports a range of data and information” on the rural subsidy program, the report “identified gaps in FCC’s data analysis and reporting that limit FCC’s ability to evaluate the program, demonstrate its effectiveness, and help ensure that the data collected will inform current and future reforms,” GAO said.

The report cited reforms in the program that the FCC planned to implement by January 2013.

Instead, “FCC officials said [the reforms] will not be implemented until the end of 2014,” citing “their efforts to gather stakeholder input as the primary cause of delays,” the report said.

While some stakeholders told the GAO they so no consequences of the delayed implementation, “small, rural carriers said the resulting uncertainty had decreased their investment,” the report said.

GAO recommended that the FCC analyze the efficacy of the program and report the information “in an accessible manner.”

“In response, FCC concurred with GAO’s recommendation and intends to take action to address it,” the report said.