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Legislators: Don't Forget Urban Underserved When Doling Out Stimulus Loans

A group of House Telecommunications, Technology & Internet subcommittee members including former Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA), have called on the government not to bypass "underserved" urban areas when handing out billions in broadband stimulus grants and loans.

That call, in a letter to the acting heads of the USDA's RUS program, NTIA and the FCC from more than a half-dozen legislators came a day after the outreach coordinator for RUS said she expected 100% of that program's $2.5 billion would go to rural areas (at least 75% of it has to go to rural areas per the law). It also comes as those three are coming up with ground rules for handing out $7.5 billion in broadband stimulus money, including defining "unserved" and "underserved" areas.

NTIA's $4.5 billion can go to rural, urban or suburban, depending on the need.

In the letter, Markey and company said that they were just trying to make sure that urban areas are "fairly considered" in the grant prices. "Specifically," they wrote, "we request that low-income urban populations be considered as potentially underserved populations when you and your agencies develop the broadband grant programs and finalize the requirements for these programs," she said, arguing that affordability to low-income families should be factored into underserved, even where there are "several different options for service."

For its part, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, has argued that the government should focus first on unserved areas, and if so will probably not have any left over. That point has been repeatedly by NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow, who not only doesn't want the government subsidizing competition where there is already broadband service, but says that the $7.2 billion in stimulus money isn't going to move the needle anyway.

He added this week, at an American Cable Association conference, that while the money may not move the needle, it could move some entities to underreport their levels of service to get access to the grants.

Signatories to the letter in addition to Markey were Doris Matsui of California, Bobby Rush of Illinois, Michael Doyle of Pennsylvania, Kathy Castor of Florida, Donna Christensen of the Virgin Islands, and Diana DeGette of Colorado.

John Eggerton
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.