Broadband agencies hear complaints from all sides

Two U.S. agencies tasked with distributing US$7.2 billion in broadband deployment money over the next year heard complaints from one U.S. senator Tuesday that they were moving too fast.

A second senator, at a hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, complained that the funds weren't being distributed fast enough.

Another group of senators complained that the U.S. Rural Utilities Service (RUS), one of the two agencies, had eliminated many unserved rural areas from eligibility. Then again, other senators noted that the RUS, in the past, has funded broadband projects where service already existed

The conflicting priorities voiced at Tuesday's hearing demonstrated the pressure the RUS and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) are under as they attempt to distribute a first round of $4 billion in broadband grants and loans by the end of the year.

An from March found that the RUS, since September 2005, loaned about $913 million to 37 applicants for broadband deployment under a separate program, said Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat. However, 34 of those applications, for $873 million, were for broadband deployment in areas where service already existed, she said.

"I just don't want federal money competing with people who've investments without the help of federal money," McCaskill said. "I don't think it's fair to those companies."