Broadband programs administered by different federal agencies should be better coordinated with each other, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.
Telecompetitor readers will be familiar with the big three broadband funding agencies – the FCC, USDA and NTIA. But GAO identified 12 other agencies that administer funding that can be used for broadband deployment, adoption or affordability. They include agencies as diverse as the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Labor.
In total, GAO identified 25 federal programs with broadband as the main purpose and more than 75 other programs involving funding that could, in some cases, be used for broadband.
Federal Broadband Programs Galore
The GAO report, titled “Broadband National Strategy Needed to Guide Federal Efforts to Reduce Digital Divide,” was based on interviews with and questionnaires from federal and nonfederal stakeholders and based on a review of statutes, regulations, interagency agreements, and the like.
According to the GAO, “The environment of fragmented and overlapping programs creates complexity and barriers for potential applicants and can limit the effectiveness of federal efforts.”
Complicating this, researchers found that “programmatic differences, including some set by statute, limit the ability to align programs.” GAO notes, for example, that different programs may have different definitions of eligible areas or broadband speeds.
To address this, GAO recommends that NTIA identify key statutory limitations to program alignment and develop legislative proposals, as appropriate.
GAO also argues that the U.S. should have a national broadband strategy with “clear roles, goals, objectives and performance measures.” Without such a strategy, efforts to align the various broadband programs could be ineffective, GAO says.
The report recommends that the Executive Office of the President should be responsible for developing the national broadband strategy.
Finally, while noting that the BroadbandUSA Federal Funding Guide created by NTIA is a useful resource, the GAO says the guide could be improved if NTIA were to seek and incorporate user feedback when updating it.