Biden Broadband Billions Likely in House GOP's Oversight Sights

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is sworn in
With House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in place, Congressional Republicans will turn their attention to oversight of the Biden adminstration. (Image credit: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

With Kevin McCarthy finally getting enough votes to be elected speaker of the House and that body cleared for the takeoff of Republican committee leadership, look for that leadership to launch FCC and NTIA oversight hearings. Of particular interest is the Biden administration's mechanisms for handing out tens of billions of government — meaning taxpayer — dollars in broadband subsidies.

That oversight could come on at least two fronts — the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability (formerly Oversight and Reform) and the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which has principal jurisdiction over communications issues. 

The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) is overseeing the distribution of most of the subsidy money, but the Federal Communications Commission also has billions of dollars through both historic and new subsidy programs.

On January 7, in a speech to CES 2023 in Las Vegas, NTIA chief Alan Davidson talked up the billions in subsidy money being teed up for this year, saying approximately $65 billion would be an investment in a “simple but ambitious’ goal: “[T]o connect everyone in America to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service.”

Also: McMorris Rodgers Warns FCC to Stay in Regulatory Lane

But Republicans also have a goal: to make sure that money goes to connecting the unconnected, rather than overbuilding existing service, and without waste, fraud and abuse.

Speaking on CNN, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, said government spending programs had gone without sufficient congressional oversight under Democratic control and signaled that would change.

Back in October, House E&C chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers sent a letter to FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel warning her of what could happen if the Republicans took control of House chairmanships.

“As the committee of jurisdiction overseeing the FCC, I assure you the committee and its members will exercise our robust investigative and legislative powers to not only forcefully reassert our Article I responsibilities but to ensure the FCC under Democrat leadership does not continue to exceed Congressional authorizations,” McMorris Rogers wrote. 

And while Republicans don't control the Senate, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) last month wrote Commerce Department inspector general Peggy Gustafson, saying she had failed to do congressionally mandated oversight of past broadband funds. 

Specifically, he said that Commerce had failed to produce the requisite IG reports on the $1.5 billion NTIA has handed out through its Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP).

Davidson said over the weekend that 2023 would see another $1 billion going to that Tribal program. ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.