There is an abundance of government grant and loan money available to help rural America build broadband connections to unserved areas. But is the government distributing that money efficiently and will all of those broadband support programs actually close the connectivity gap? A report this week from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), “National Strategy Needed to Guide Federal Efforts to Reduce Digital Divide,” finds many flaws in the current programs and recommends streamlining them as part of a greater federal broadband strategy.
“Federal broadband efforts are fragmented and overlapping, with more than 100 programs administered by 15 agencies. Many programs have broadband as their main purpose, and several overlap because they can be used for the purpose of broadband deployment,” according to the report GAO completed at the request of Roger F. Wicker (R-MS), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee and four other committee Republicans. “Despite numerous programs and federal investment of $44 billion from 2015 through 2020, millions of Americans still lack broadband, and communities with limited resources may be most affected by fragmentation.”
NRTC started up its Funding Services division last year to help members navigate the dense layers of regulation around the various funding programs. The GAO graphic below demonstrates how many programs the federal government currently administers and how their functions often overlap. Different agencies’ programs have inconsistent eligibility rules, definitions of terms, application procedures and other details. Some of the newer programs distribute funds through state, local and tribal governments, adding even more complexity.