Republicans blast 'wasteful' Internet stimulus program

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Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) questioned the necessity of the broadband stimulus and suggested that the $2.5 billion in unused funds should be given back to the Treasury. 

But the subcommittee's Democrats defended the spending, which is made up of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP). They argued that while there will always be problems with large government programs, the broadband stimulus has been worthwhile.

"The investments made in broadband infrastructure are having a profound impact in local communities around the country," said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the subcommittee.

"I don't really understand how any of my colleagues can argue that providing better, faster Internet and more digital literacy training to underserved and unserved areas of this country is something we should criticize," Rep. Mike Doyle (R-Pa.) said.

Walden claimed that West Virginia used federal funds to buy enterprise-grade routers for tiny libraries with only a few computers. He pointed to one project in Colorado that built a third fiber Internet connection to an 11-student elementary school.

Larry Stricking, the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees BTOP, pushed back against the Republican criticism in several testy exchanges with lawmakers. 

He argued that West Virginia received heavy discounts for the high-end routers, meaning it was a better fiscal decision to buy them than lower capacity routers.

"We're confusing the capabilities of what they're getting with the cost that they paid," Strickling insisted.

Barton pressed Strickling to estimate how many homes the program has connected to broadband Internet.

"You're misapprehending the focus of our program," Strickling said, arguing that the NTIA focused on expanding "middle-mile" broadband networks to schools, libraries and hospitals, while encouraging private companies to extend the networks to homes and businesses.