Broadband Stimulus Lingers On

WASHINGTON — Cable operators will have to monitor the progress of BTOP grants — the $4 billion in broadband-stimulus funds comprising the Broadband Technology Opportunites Program — for a while longer.

In its latest quarterly status report for the period ending last Sept. 30, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration said there were still 49 grants for projects that had not successfully been completed; recipients will have until December to finish.

MSOs have long been concerned that the stimulus program was used to unfairly subsidize competitors, allowing them to overbuild with impunity. The NTIA has countered that the mostly middle-mile buildouts to libraries, schools and hospitals are not overbuilds at all.

The NTIA cited various reasons for allowing the extra year-plus to finish beyond Sept. 30, 2013. The Office of Management and Budget had to grant that waiver of spending requirements in the program, but was apparently swayed by a laundry list of factors that NTIA said were “beyond [the grantees’] control and unanticipated in their project plans.”

That latest NTIA report should come under some scrutiny on Capitol Hill. The House Communications Subcommittee — led by BTOP critic Greg Walden (R-Ore.) — raked the NTIA over the coals last year at a hearing, and had scheduled a BTOP oversight hearing for earlier this month (Feb. 11) before postponing it due to troubles lining up all the witnesses it wanted.

Walden made no secret of his concerns in the announcement of the hearing, which talked about revisiting a program “plagued by mismanagement and poor decisionmaking.”

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.