O'Rielly Concerned About Wyoming Answers to Overbuild Questions

(Image credit: Future Media)

FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly said he has gotten responses from letters he sent following up on complaints by some Wyoming cable broadband providers that the state was using CARES Act money to overbuild existing broadband providers. He was clearly not happy with the the answers.

The CARES Act had $1.5 billion in funding to aid communities impacted by COVID-19 that could be used for broadband deployment among many other things. Then there was another $16 billion that could be tapped for distance learning, including connectivity.

Related: O'Rielly Seeks Answers on Potential Wyoming Overbuilds

"I saw some of the responses from the Wyoming Business Council last weekend," he told Multichannel News. "They said the goal was to get the money and spend it in the time frame the CARES Act had outlined," he said. "That, to me, is incredibly problematic."

The grants are being administered by the Wyoming Business Council's (WBC) Connect Wyoming program. O'Rielly, who is no fan of using government money to overbuild existing networks built with private capital, told Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon that, based on information brought to his attention, "the WBC has not publicly released the applications or proposed coverage maps for the grant recipients, nor has it taken the requisite steps to ensure subsidized overbuilding did not and will not occur."

Of the WBC response, O'Rielly said: "It wasn't like, 'How do we soundly spend this money.' It was 'How do we make sure we get it and get it out the door so we can spend it in time.' That is not how dollars should be spent.

O'Rielly has said that there are allegations--he did not say from whom--that one or more of the grant recipients will wind up overbuilding recipients of the FCC's Universal Service Fund Connect America Fund Phase II money. He said if that is true, it would "not only artificially impair the value of the FCC’s past and current subsidies but would also undercut providers’ willingness to compete in future FCC reverse auctions."

He told the governor he would like the WBC to immediately release coverage maps for its projects so that current cable and fiber broadband providers in the state can challenge duplicative projects and stop funding for any that subsidize overbuilding.

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.